Kevin Durant must lead way for Oklahoma City Thunder in West finals.
By Jen Floyd Engel FoxSports
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant had just kicked the butts of what until about midway through the third quarter was being hailed as the most perfect NBA team.
Include yours truly among those planting such sloppy, wet verbal kisses on San Antonio's posteriors. The Oklahoma City duo had us all looking, if not foolish, then at least slightly premature with Thursday's 102-82 victory against San Antonio in Game 3.
And there they sat late Thursday in their Urkel glasses taking turns saying nothing of substance about how.
This togetherness, like nerdy chic glasses and outlandish blouses, is the trend in NBA postgame press conferences nowadays.
I am not entirely sure who started this couples interviewing (seems like another LeBron James-Dwyane Wade-Miami Heat creation), just that I do not remember Michael Jordan talking about the flu game with Scottie Pippen sitting next to him and being given equal weight. What I know is this configuration is supposed to demonstrate togetherness or, in the case of LeBron and D-Wade, prevent media from antagonizing them by misrepresenting what may be said if left alone with their thoughts. And it gives, in this case Westbrook, the feeling like he is every bit as important as Durant.
One problem. This is a lie.
I am just going to say that thing you are not supposed to say in sports: Westbrook is not as important.
This is different than saying he is unimportant. Westbrook was a big help in snapping a 20-game San Antonio winning streak and foisting OKC back into this series, just like Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka and James Harden were.
Sefolosha, especially, deserves special mention.
After two games of watching Tony Parker just demolish Westbrook, Sefolosha was dispatched for duty. He held Parker to 16 points and four assists.
"It wasn't anything Russell did the last two games," Brooks said, which felt a little forced and not entirely accurate.
This is the game played in the NBA lately — no blame, no criticism, nobody bigger than anybody else. It is nice. It is just not accurate. Even the ultimate team, San Antonio, goes through Parker.
The Thunder are Durant's team, and needs to be more so if they are going to do anything more than break a streak and put a scare into Pop and Timmy Duncan and Parker before wishing them luck against Miami.
Teams need an alpha dog, a guy who wants the ball in winning time. Both Miami and OKC have two alpha dogs.
Westbrook is even more alpha than D-Wade in his mentality, always on the attack. It mostly works. They are in the West finals. The next step demands Durant assert himself as the No. 1 because he needs the ball in his hands to have the impact he has to have for them to win.
Clutch is not what one does at the end of the game. It is what he does when the game is on the line. And in Thursday's game, trailing 2-0 in the series and reeling a little, winning time was in the second quarter.
KD killed, scoring 16 of his 22 in the first half, which was really what was needed seeing as how Spurs coach Gregg Popovich conceded this one early.
I could not be the only one who watched the first two games waiting for Brooks to tell Westbrook that, if he wanted to engage Parker in a game of H-O-R-S-E, he needed to save that for his personal time. The playoffs were for getting KD more shots.
I will say this again: I like Westbrook. I do not mind him being a selfish little you-know-what sometimes and jacking up a bunch of shots. He is what he is, and it works.
A big reason why the Heat have been playing so well lately is LeBron and Wade are finally moving off the ball well with the other out there, which is basically each (mostly D-Wade) giving something up for the other.
What OKC needs is for KD to put his foot down, say this is his team and take the shots he needs and wants. And Westbrook has to defer, like he did Thursday.
It was the hidden genius behind the Sefolosha decision. Brooks, by the way, deserves a lot of credit for out-Popping Pop. What he did by using Sefolosha on Parker was take away the Parker vs. Westbrook storyline, freeing Westbrook to be himself.
The highlight of the night may have been Popovich trying to answer a question about what adjustments he could make to counter Sefolosha.
"I could ask Scotty not to play him," Pop said. "I don't know how I could change what Sefo is going to do. It's not about Tony. It's our team."
Parker came in later, by himself and looking like a GQ fashion spread in his black biker jacket and denim and basically saying he has to play better. This is how it is when you are the man.
When it gets confusing is when there are two at the table.
And if the Thunder wants to win the West finals, they need to start by acknowledging that thing we are just not supposed to say: KD is their best chance to beat San Antonio.