If you watched the NBA Western Conference Finals last night, Wednesday, and Game 1 Monday between its two remaining teams, the Oklahoma Thunder and the Golden State Warriors, you’re watching two of basketball’s most notable point guards, each team’s common denominator, OKC’s Russell Westbrook and Golden State’s Stephen Curry.
To clarify things, Curry, 28, is the league MVP for the second year in a row. This year, he won unanimously. He’s also America’s sweetheart. Its current media darling. The baby-face family man with the cute, precocious little daughter. Westbrook, 27, on the other hand, gets kudos for his GQ-like, runway-style fashionable appearance. In their own ways, they’re both celebrated.
Point guards such as Curry, drafted in 2009, and Westbrook, drafted in 2008, both in the first round, are the most specialized of the five player positions on a basketball court. They control the ball. They run the team’s offense. They distribute. They facilitate. Point guards such as Curry and Westbrook, also known as “ones,” are equivalent to teams having a coach on the floor.
During the regular season, October through April, Curry, this season’s scoring and steals leader, and Westbrook, eighth on the scorer’s list, played against each other three times. The Warriors swept the three. The most memorable was Saturday night, Feb. 27, on the road in Oklahoma. A comeback, overtime Warrior victory in which Curry hit 12 three-pointers, 46 points. One three-pointer from 40 feet trended throughout the media as much as Rougned Odor’s solid, hard right-hand punch to the corner of Jose Bautista’s jaw in Sunday’s bench-clearing brawl between baseball’s Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays.
Curry averaged 30.1 points per game, playing in 79 of 82 to Westbrook’s 23.5, playing in 80. Curry, third in three-point shooting, attempted 886 threes, making 402. He shot 400 free throws, making 363.
Westbrook, last season’s scoring leader, was second in the league this year in assists, 834, only five behind league leader Rajon Rondo. He got to the free-throw line more than Curry, shooting 573 times, making 465.
Curry’s and Westbrook’s production were equal Monday night, the first game of the third round of NBA playoffs, although Westbrook and OKC got the upper hand. Each played 40 minutes. Each had double-doubles. Curry had 26 points, 10 rebounds and 7. Westbrook had 27 points (19 in the third quarter), 12 assists, 6 rebounds and 7 steals, a game high for him.
“They have a lot of great players on their team, but I know we’re a great team when we put our minds to it,” said Westbrook, referencing his team, which acquired somewhat of a reputation this season for losing games in the last quarter. “Tonight we didn’t play our best game, and we came out with a win.”
It’s going to take one of the teams to not play their best game for either OKC or Golden State to win this series and advance to the NBA Finals. Golden State, the defending champions, didn’t play their best game either, and they lost, at home, in the Golden State. But each team gets another chance to play their best game, Sunday and Tuesday, in Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma.