How the Thunder turned the Western Conference Finals around, and why they are knocking on the doorstep of the NBA Finals:
Russell Westbrook is a combined 33-94 in the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs.
That, for those of you who are quicker with Math than ol’ Russ is with the ball, means he is shooting 35% for the series.
While Westbrook’s play for each of the last 3 games, ALL Thunder wins, has been MUCH improved, it hasn’t translated over to his shooting percentage.
The Thunder have won each of the last 3 games NOT because Russ has thrown on the Superman cape and single handedly lead them to victory with his gargantuan offensive numbers, but because:
- Of Westbrook’s increased willingness to make the extra pass as well as his increased willingness to take higher percentage shots. With the exception of Russ’ 9-24 performance in Game 5, he has been far more likely to try and get role players like Ibaka, Perkins, and Sefolosha involved in the game. And it has payed off to the tune of 3 straight wins, putting them with walking distance of the NBA Finals.
- Of MUCH improved play from the Thunder’s role players. Thabo Sefolosha had what is for HIM, an offensive explosion, by putting up 19 points in a Game 3 win. Ibaka had 26 points on 11-11 shooting, and Kendrick Perkins had 15 in a HUGE Game 4 victory.
- HOT shooting, and HUGE 4th quarter performances from Kevin Durant and James Harden. Durant is shooting 53% for the series, and his 17 point 4th quarter outburst in Game 4 helped the Thunder tie the series. Harden is shotting 50% for the series, and hit several enormous shots for the Thunder down the stretch to fight off what would have been a HUGE 4th quarter comeback for the Spurs, when there wasn’t another Thunder player capable of knocking down a shot.
- Their assist total as a TEAM. The Thunder had only 18 and 19 assists respectively in Games 1 and 2, both in which they were out assisted by the Spurs. They lost BOTH. In Games 3, 4, 5, the Thunder had 23, 27, and 22 respectively. They won ALL THREE games.
- MUCH improved defense on Tony Parker. Parker had a combined 52 points in the series’ first 2 games. BOTH Spurs’ victories. In the 3 games since, Parker has managed only 58 points, while shooting above 35% only once. ALL Thunder victories. Whether it has been Westbrook’s speed and athleticism, or Sefolosha’s relentless on the ball pressure, the Thunder’s overall defense on Parker may be the most decisive factor in sending the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals.
So WHY did I include the opening paragraph harping on Russell Westbrook’s shooting percentage, and shot selection, you ask.
To make a point that I have ALWAYS tried to make regarding the Oklahoma City Thunder.
They simply do NOT need Russ to go out and jack up 25-30 shots outside of the offense, and they do not need Russell to score 30 a night, either.
With Durant and Harden, the Thunder have the NBA’s leading scorer, and the league’s 6th Man of the season, BECAUSE of his scoring. Putting the ball in the basket is NOT a problem for them.
With Ibaka, the Thunder have an athletic, knockdown 15-17 foot jump shooter, who simply needs opportunities to shoot. Westbrook has been one of the main reasons he has had the opportunites in the series’ last 3 games.
The importance of Thabo Sefolosha’s incredible Game 3 performance simply CANNOT be overstated. His 19 points, and 4-10 3’s while playing lockdown defense helped to bring a comeback in this series within the Thunder’s grasp. Although Sefolosha has CLEARLY found his niche with the Thunder because of his play on the defensive side of the ball, getting role players involved on offense, only makes them play THAT MUCH harder on defense.
When people think about the Bulls and their 6 Championships in the 90’s, they think about Jordan. Nevermind Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, Ron Harper, and other role players that each had huge moments for the Bulls along the way.
When people think about the Lakers championship teams from the early 2000’s, they think about Shaq and Kobe. HUGE shots by Robert Horry, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Ron Harper, and Glen Rice are all to often forgotten ALL about. If you think that the Lakers’ could’ve pulled off their 3 peat WITHOUT those huge contributions from those role players, why don’t you ask Shaq and Kobe if they believe that to be the case.
In closing, in the last 3 games, Russell Westbrook has CLEARLY out Tony Parkered, Tony Parker, and the high scoring output of Durant and Harden, along with the big time emergence of Ibaka, Sefolosha, and Perkins has the Thunder knocking on the door of their destiny.
The Thunder haven’t discovered some new innovative way to win championships. They have simply removed all of the bullshit from the toy chest to find the blueprint for success tucked safely away at the bottom, awaiting a worthy team to present themselves.
The Oklahoma City Thunder may very well be that team.