If the Spurs had lost Game 1, most of us would have just chalked it up to rust. Although disappointing, it wouldn't affect the mindset of this Spurs team. However, in a conversation with J.R. Wilco, I mentioned that Game 1 was probably Psychologically Devastating™ for the Thunder. Jolly disagreed - he thinks they are too mentally tough. Read my counterargument below the jump.
To win a championship, a team needs two types of toughness: physical and mental. The Thunder exhibited both of these characteristics against the Lakers. But just because a team shows toughness, does that mean all parts of the team are tough? Not necessarily. For this reason, I think Russell Westbrook is the key to this series.
The majority of OKC's offense comes from their version of the "Big 3". Kevin Durant is going to get his, no matter how great Jax and Kawhi's defense is. He's that elite of a scorer, but of course it helps to limit his touches. James Harden's got game, but he's the only creator on their 2nd unit, thereby limiting his effectiveness against a good bench (this is when OKC really misses Eric Maynor). However, the Spurs have no answer for Westbrook's athleticism, speed and ability to finish at the rim. So why was he non-existent in the 4th quarter?
The mark of a mentally tough player is that when one aspect of his game isn't working, he can still contribute in other ways. Tony shot like crap on Sunday night, and had some really bad turnovers in the first half, but he still managed to grab 8 boards and come alive in the 4th quarter. And wasn't one of the major talking points about Manu's less-than-stellar playoff run (prior to last night) all the little things that he did to contribute to the streak?
So what happened to Westbrook in the 4th quarter? Tony's defense. Unlike Tony and Manu, when Westbrook is taken out of his offensive game, he loses his aggressiveness and jacks more long jumpers. And what kind of shots are the Spurs more than happy to allow? Long jumpers. Not to mention that when you take Westbrook out of his offensive game, he checks out on defense.
This is not a "bash on Westbrook" post, just an observation of his play. He's young, he's talented, and as we've already seen over this season, he's improving. If he can ever mesh his talent with his brain, he'll be scary, scary good. Yet mentally, he's not there yet. And that's who the Spurs should exploit - that's the weak link. It worked in the regular season, and I don't see why it shouldn't work in the playoffs.