It’s easy to look at Russell Westbrook’s box scores against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals and say he has been struggling.
That is true to some extent. He is averaging 16.8 points per game and shooting .351 percent from the field.
But that’s not the whole story.
Westbrook and the Thunder as a team struggled against the Spurs at the start of this series. They lost the first two games while San Antonio was off looking like the best team in the league.
Westbrook averaged 22.0 points per game in those losses but was severely outplayed by Tony Parker on the other end especially in Game 2 when Parker scored 34 points.
The Thunder made adjustments when they went home. Scott Brooks slid Thabo Sefolosha over onto Parker on defense, allowing Westbrook to play more comfortably off the ball and roam the passing lanes.
This helped the Thunder team in general and was the most noticeable adjustment but Westbrook changed his offensive mindset as well.
Westbrook averaged 23.6 points per game this season for the Thunder, fifth best in the NBA. That’s a lot for a point guard as many will criticize but it was necessary for this Thunder team. Having him as a scorer who sometimes shoots more than Kevin Durant is what their formula was to win.
The best part about Westbrook’s improved offensive game became his deadly pull-up midrange jumper. When he was hitting that, he looked as good as any player in the league. When he wasn’t though, he morphed into a reckless rim attacker, out of control and ugly.
The jump shot was not falling for Westbrook to begin this series. So he did what Westbrook does. He started attacking and doing so in an uncalculated manner. It was not working for the Thunder.
The jump shot has never started falling but the Thunder have started winning. Westbrook started playing like more of a point guard.
His drives became directed at setting up teammates rather than looking to score. Westbrook has averaged 7.8 assists per game in this series after averaging just 5.6 per game in the regular season and just over four per game in the first two rounds.
Westbrook had maybe his best game in Game 5 scoring 23 points but also dishing out 12 assists.
A huge key to the Thunder winning Game 4 was the performances by the Thunder bigs. Serge Ibaka made all 11 of his shots and finished with 26 points. Thank Westbrook some for that.
All year we have talked about the growing up and maturation of this Thunder team. They do it at an incredible rate and we are seeing it again in this series.
Young teams don’t usually make adjustments like this in the middle of a series against a team with a 20-game winning streak and live to tell about it. The Thunder are within one win of an NBA Finals appearance.
They are proving that they are the most talented team in the NBA. Durant might be the most talented player in the league.
But its Westbrook too who is responsible for this run. His ability to change his game this series, sacrifice his role. He’s growing up right along with the rest of this team and it isn’t good news for the rest of the league.