While accepting the award for himself, Kevin Durant called Russell Westbrook an MVP-caliber player.
And on Tuesday, Westbrook delivered a championship-caliber effort that got the Oklahoma City Thunder back to even in the Western Conference finals.
He had 40 points, 10 assists and five steals in a 105-92 victory over the San Antonio Spurs 105-92 that tied the series at two games apiece.
“Coach told us he needed maximum effort from us tonight, and it starts with me at point guard,” Westbrook said. “My job is to play both sides of the ball. If you want to win a championship, those are things you have to do.”
It matched the second-highest playoff point total of Westbrook’s career, falling short of the 43 he scored in the 2012 NBA Finals.
“Just his focus on every possession on the defensive end and his poise on the offensive end, I think that’s what’s fun to watch,” Durant said. “People outside of our team don’t really look at that type of stuff, but that’s something we can definitely build on as a group, is watching him wreak havoc on the defensive end and offensively, playing with such patience.”
At times, Westbrook has been a maddening player for Thunder fans to watch. His dynamic athletic ability gives him a supreme confidence level that sometimes leads to ill-advised shots and a tendency to hold the ball at the expense of offensive flow.
But in this game, Westbrook did just about everything right. He shot 50 percent from the field and took just five 3-pointers. He made 14 of 14 free throws.
“Sometimes he’s going to go off,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “He’s capable of doing that. If he makes a lot of jumpers, it gets really tough.”
In the midst of posting a monster game, Westbrook allowed Durant to still score 31 points. It was Durant’s highest-scoring game of the series after the NBA’s leading scorer was held to a 22.7-point average in the first three games.
Serge Ibaka added nine points and eight rebounds for the Thunder, who have turned around the series since he returned from an injury that was expected to keep him out for the rest of the postseason.
“We just play well with Serge,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We can do things with Serge in the lineup that we can’t do with other guys.”