NBA Playoffs 2014: Russell Westbrook Dominates in Game 4 Victory


May 27, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) tips the ball away from San Antonio Spurs guard Danny Green (4) during the second quarter in game four of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The OKC Thunder had been blown out for the first two games of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. The controlled frenzy on offense was nonexistent and the Thunder had no way of containing the Spurs’ constant passing and weaving offense. In Game 3, Serge Ibaka returned to the OKC lineup, providing the spark that led to an easy victory.

In Game 4, that spark was more like the human lightning bolt known as Russell Westbrook.

It’s easy to look at Ibaka’s return and give him credit for the Thunder’s re-Serge-ence. On Tuesday, he was solid, finishing the night with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. His defense was key to clogging those lanes that seemed wide open for San Antonio in games 1 and 2. You could look to the Thunder’s bench as a factor, too. When the Spurs were cruising early in the game and guard Reggie Jackson turned his ankle and limped off the court, OKC could easily have folded. Instead, Jeremy Lamb – all sleepy eyes and long limbs – was an immediate factor. Stealing the ball from Tony Parker on one end, grabbing an offensive rebound over Tim Duncan on the other…this was the kind of impact that was missing from the reserves in the first two games of the series.

And that’s when Westbrook came to life in electrifying fashion.

It was, quite possibly, the turning point in Westbrook’s career. It’s been said of him before and there’s a long way to go for this potential Hall-of-Famer; this proclamation might be too hasty. But it was almost like you could see the wheels turning in Russell’s brain, a slowing down that he has yet to fully embrace. With the Spurs up 8, down 2 games to 1, and your starting point guard (and most consistent player) getting taped up in the locker room, Westbrook seemed to take it all in and realized, this could be the end of the season. And he wasn’t ready to go fishing just yet.

From there, it was roughly 40 minutes of nonstop (but controlled) energy. He became the superstar that Oklahoma City has needed when Kevin Durant’s shots don’t fall (it happens) or when head coach Scott Brooks stays with his rotation a little too long (that, too, happens). Westbrook controlled the pace of the game, raised it to his manic level, and kept it there. His stats are nice, no doubt about it; 40 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and 1 block. Incredible, really. But it was those steals that are the most telling.

Hands like cobras stinging the ball away from Parker and company. Laying off his man at just the right moment to intercept an atypically-lazy pass. Diving on the floor or out of bounds. Seemingly everywhere all at once. Controlled chaos.

During the game, TNT broadcasters were already calling it the best game of Westbrook’s career. He only had 34 points at the time and the Spurs had raised the white flag by emptying out their bench when the OKC lead grew to 27 points. Except, to their credit, San Antonio’s reserves started cutting into that lead with a putback here, a 3-pointer there. There was enough time to make it a game and the Spurs’ confidence was rising, with the gap closed to a manageable 12 points.

Then Westbrook took the ball downcourt in just a matter of seconds, got free on a weak screen at the top of the key, and knocked down an open 15-footer. Bang. Rally over.

This could be the game that marks a new phase in Westbrook’s life as a professional, although it’s too soon to tell. But there’s no denying that his performance made all the difference in saving the series and giving life to a Thunder team that was dead only 48 hours before. Russell’s energy was channeled into a defibrillator, and OKC’s heart is beating strong once more.