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SPORTS: Oklahoma City Thunder

Westbrook's Big Night Shows Thunder's True Strength

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LOS ANGELES -

In the story of the Thunder's season, Kevin Durant is the main character and protagonist.

And deservedly so.

The NBA's MVP averaged 32 points per game while carrying a shorthanded Thunder team to 59 wins in a brutally difficult Western Conference. 

Like any good protagonist, Durant is likeable and easy to pull for.  He's unselfish, humble, gracious and really, really good at his job. 

But every good story needs a catalyst, and for the Thunder, it's Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook played in only 46 games this season due to multiple knee issues, but is finally back at full strength; right where the Thunder needs him.

Durant and Westbrook are both All-Stars, Olympic Gold-Medalists and All-NBA performers, yet Westbrook seems to take significantly more criticism than Durant. 

Westbrook might play five or six great games in a row, but the moment he has a 9-25 shooting night, the critics jump on him quickly. 

"I have no idea why he takes the flack that he takes," Memphis coach Dave Joerger said of Westbrook after the Thunder eliminated the Grizzlies. "This man can play. He's one of the most talented people in the league. It's unfathomable."

In Game 5, Durant had a rare off night, and it was up to Westbrook to save the day.  Westbrook scored 38 points on 11-23 shooting while hitting 14 of 16 free throws.  His relentless attack kept the Thunder in the game long enough for Durant to wake up late.

"Russ carried us the whole game," Durant said.  "Definitely put me in position to go out there and hit those shots."

Westbrook discussed his mindset as Game 5 progressed.

"Kevin comes to me and tells me to stay aggressive regardless of what's going on," Westbrook said.  "The game will tell you what to do. When the game gets kinda out of whack, as a point guard my job is to figure out what it is that we need. Rebounding, scoring, passing, whatever it is that we need to keep us in the game."

When Westbrook can provide performances like Game 5's, the Thunder becomes nearly unbeatable.

"He was incredible, I think he won the game for us," Thabo Sefolosha said of his point guard. "He was just non-stop attacking them. He was all over the floor, an incredible game."

Westbrook's fearless attitude pairs perfectly with Durant's introverted personality. It's the Thunder's version of fire and ice. 

"It's real special to have a guy like him on the team," Butler said of Westbrook.  "He's definitely a closer, a finisher.  He's got that DNA in him; he's special."

It's hard to imagine Durant shooting 6-22 again in Game 6, so the Thunder might not need another A+ performance from Westbrook.  But if Durant and Westbrook both play well, the next chapter of the Thunder's story will be written in the Western Conference Finals. 

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