Doc Rivers has coached more than 120 postseason games, prepared for 22 playoff series and captained two NBA Finals runs.
But in his time in the league, he’s never led an opposing scouting report similar to the one he put together for the Thunder.
“I don’t think I’ve ever come into a series where my biggest fear is point guard rebounding,” Rivers said. “I don’t think I’ve ever said that in my life. Yet in this series, the number one thing on the board as far as our team was (Russell) Westbrook rebounding.”
Three of the past four seasons, Westbrook has led his position in rebounds per game. Because of the relentless aggression that fuels every aspect of his game, Westbrook is an unhinged menace on the glass, flying in for offensive rebounds and chipping in on the defensive boards. And it’s a terror for opposing clubs to prepare for and deal with.
But during this postseason run, he’s cranked it up another notch. In 11 games, Westbrook is averaging 8.7 rebounds, three more than the next closest point guard and 14th most in the entire league. That’s more than guys such as Tim Duncan, Serge Ibaka and LeBron James.
“He’s a freak of nature. He really is,” Rivers said. “He’s one of the few guys ever I’ve seen who can take a shot and get his own rebound. I’m talking about a three and get his own rebound. He knows where the ball is going, and he’s very aggressive.”
It’s been a key factor in the Thunder’s success, with Westbrook leading the way for a Thunder team that has outrebounded opponents in 10 of the 11 playoff games.
But it also has its drawbacks. Westbrook’s aggressiveness can occasionally lead to precarious situations for his teammates, having to adjust their transition defense with a point guard who so actively crashes the offensive glass.
“There’s certain times where he has to get back,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
But more often than not, Westbrook’s rebounding is a boost for the Thunder and a nightmare for opponents.
Turnover disparity has been an undertold development but key factor in the Thunder’s collapse on Sunday afternoon and its inability to put away the Clippers in this series.
OKC has committed 63 turnovers. L.A. has only committed 37. The Thunder has lost the turnover battle in all four games.
Of the eight teams remaining in the playoffs, the Thunder is committing the most turnovers (15.7 per game) and causing the fewest (10.5).
This season, the Thunder and Clippers were one and two in technical fouls in the NBA.
Through four games, the mouthy and physical matchup hasn’t disappointed – with 15 combined technicals between the teams. There’s been a ton of complaining and a bunch of minor confrontations, but Thunder players said it hasn’t been any chippier than usual
“Nah, it’s a typical game,” Kevin Durant said. “Both teams physical, both teams pushing, grabbing, holding. It’s a part of the game, gotta play through it.”
Westbrook said: “There's a lot of flopping going on, I can tell you that much. If that's what you call chippiness."