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From The Courts

Rosen: Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry an unfair battle

AP Photo/Ben Margot
AP Photo/Ben Margot

In addition to, and superseding, the first meeting of Russell Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant’s Golden State Warriors, the game was also billed as a battle between the two best point guards in creation—Westbrook and Stephen Curry.

While the game turned out to be a KD fest, with his scoring 39 points and leading the Warriors to a 122-96 blowout win, the competition between Westbrook and Curry was still very revealing.

OFFENSE

Westbrook was mostly defended by Klay Thompson, and since he came into the action averaging a phenomenal 37.8 points per game, the Warrior’s defense understandably focused on him.

As a result of this intense attention, as well as Westbrook’s overeager determination to excel, he had a miserable game—4-15 (2-4 from downtown), 10 assists, six turnovers, and 20 points. He forced several shots/drives, had two attempted layups blocked, another layup missed, and scored only eleven points on twelve isolations.

Westbrook did, however, make one sensational shot—a driving, fadeaway banker—and was unselfish when triggering a fast break.

Overall, the Thunder had minimal weakside movement and otherwise ran some standard high screens and handoffs. And OKC’s switching defense mostly stymied them.

Curry, meanwhile, also had a subpar offensive performance—6-14 (2-6), seven assists and 21 points. He was the beneficiary of the Warriors perpetual-motion offense and went one-on-one only five times (scoring six points).

While Westbrook began each halfcourt set playing Curry man-to-man, the Thunder made soft switches at every crossing—sometimes with bigs trying to guard Curry. This was a foolish idea since—with no bigs available to protect the rim, Curry wound up with three driving layups, easy kick-out assists, not to mention several open treys.

Of course, Golden State’s offense has more weapons in its arsenal than OKC’s does, so Curry never tried to force a pass, a shot, or a bounce.

And how about the off-target passes on the move that have characterized Curry’s game? He threw two accurate ones and two bad ones (which, fortunately, were rescued by the recipients.)

DEFENSE

Westbrook made a nifty block on a driving Durant, and another stuff on an attempted layup by Curry. He also stole the entry pass when he was low-posted by Draymond Green, but immediately made a terrible pass that led to an unopposed layup by Thompson.

Otherwise, when switching Westbrook tended to wander into No-Defender’s -Land—losing Thompson three times that resulted in three treys.  Then allowing Curry to bag a triple when, in a rare head-to-head sequence, Westbrook was passive on a simple handoff.

On the other hand, Curry’s defense was mostly terrific. He moved his feet quickly enough to prevent Westbrook from dribbling himself into an optimum iso-angle. And, when he wasn’t switching, Curry fought his way through a number of high screens that likewise prevented his opposite number from gaining an advantage.

In truth, it’s unfair to compare these two extraordinary point guards. Westbrook is a power guy with incredible athleticism who’s jumpers are iffy, while Curry is a finesse player who mostly relies on his tricky handle and his net-rippling, quick-release three-pointers.

Most importantly, Westbrook and Curry have different roles on their respective teams. Westbrook has to do everything on the Thunder’s offense—shoot, drive, pass, get to the stripe, and score points by the dozen. With Thompson and Durant on the court, Curry can keep moving, choose his spots/shots, and seldom challenge opponents’ bigs in the paint.

So, then, it’s clear that Curry is the best at what he has to do, and the same equation is true for Westbrook. The differences are Curry’s superior defense, and the fact that the Warriors are a more multi-dimensional and considerably superior ball club.

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