The story of yesterday’s Game 4 between the Spurs and Thunder is obviously Kevin Durant, who led the Thunder to victory with 41 points and outscored San Antonio 17-16 in the fourth quarter. But just as important as all the shots Durant made were all the shots Russell Westbrook didn’t take.
Westbrook is a no-shit superstar who has earned the right to run the Thunder’s offense as he sees fit, but even he admitted that he killed his team’s chances in Game 3. In that game, Westbrook took 31 shots, 10 of which came from behind the arc, and scored just 31 points a loss. He also committed two devastating turnovers late in the fourth. Meanwhile, Durant shot the ball just 18 times in Game 3, and after the game Westbrook told reporters that he had to do a better job getting his teammates involved (via ESPN):
“Just too many shots,” Westbrook said. “Honestly, man, I’ve got to do a better job, like I said before, getting guys shots. Steven [Adams] got one shot. Got to get other guys involved, especially to beat this team. Even though I had some shots I made, I’ve got to read and find ways to get guys shots. I take the blame.”
Cut to the start of the second half of Game 4, with the score tied at 48 and Westbrook and Durant both struggling a bit to find their strokes. Westbrook was 2-of-9, Durant was 4-of-12, and it was clear that the Thunder needed one or both to catch fire if they wanted any chance at winning the game. Westbrook took another nine shots in the second half, but Durant was the one who dominated. He went 10-of-13 from the field and scored 29 points while Westbrook dished another seven assists. More importantly, Westbrook only attempted one three-pointer in the second half, opting instead for five shots at the rim.
If the Thunder want to take two more games off the Spurs, this is probably the formula that gives them the best shot at doing so. Westbrook will get his shots and fill up the box score no matter how he decides to attack, but the Thunder can’t afford to have Durant go overlooked in crunch time. Like all good defensive teams, the Spurs specialize in forcing their opponents to take the least-efficient shot possible (ahem, Westbrook from deep, ahem), but when Durant is feeling himself, there is no such thing as a least-efficient shot. Just look at this jumper he puts in Kawhi Leonard’s eye:
A team constructed like the Thunder need a guy who can make those shots late in the fourth quarter if they want to win, and Kevin Durant is the one player on the roster suited to fill that need. This doesn’t mean that Westbrook can’t star in his own way—he can do plenty of damage simply by running the offense and attacking the rim when he sees openings—but the wins are harder to come by when Durant isn’t given every opportunity to hit the important shots.