OKLAHOMA CITY — Klay Thompson’s typically undercover campaign to earn votes for the NBA All-Defensive team turned highly visible Saturday night.
With the Warriors facing the Thunder inside the cauldron that is Chesapeake Energy Arena, Thompson knew his primary assignment would be Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s dynamic point guard.
Stopping Westbrook is the surest way to stop the Thunder, and Thompson put him inside a vise that left Westbrook struggling to find breathing room, barely able to create and at times lashing out in frustration.
The Warriors rolled to a 110-88 victory largely because Westbrook finished with a season-low seven points, with a season-worst 2-of-16 shooting from the field.
“It was fantastic,” Warriors forward Draymond Green assessed. “Klay, no matter who he’s guarding, is always up for the challenge. But he did a great job on Russ tonight, being into the ball and not giving him anything easy, picking and choosing his spots — when to pressure and when to drop back. He tried to keep him off balance.”
Westbrook missed his first eight shots, finally getting a bucket on a layup with 8:21 left in the third quarter. He was 1 of 15 through three quarters.
Thompson’s defense had such a stressful effect on Westbrook that when one of his shots was stuffed by Thompson in the second quarter, with the Warriors guard grabbing the rebound, Westbrook rammed into him out of despair. The result: a technical foul on Westbrook.
Westbrook later had a brief physical exchange with Warriors backup center — and fellow UCLA product — Kevon Looney, who laughed it off, clearly understanding Westbrook’s exasperation.
Thompson, using his four-inch height advantage, cut off Westbrook’s daredevil drives, got into his head early and stayed there all evening
“Understand that he’s so aggressive with the ball in his hands that he’s always going to be in attack mode,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said of Westbrook. “Klay was always aware of where he was and trying to keep a body between him and the basket. You live with contested shots.
“He was amazing, especially in that first half, keeping him off balance.”
It’s not unusual that Thompson forces Westbrook into low-percentage shooting. In two games against Klay this season, Westbrook is shooting 22.6 percent (7-of-31). In three games against Thompson, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is shooting 28.2 percent (22-of-78). In three games against Thompson, Houston’s James Harden, a leading MVP candidate, is shooting 39.7 percent (31-of-78).
Asked if Thompson deserves consideration for the All-Defensive team, Green quickly said he should.
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“I think so,” he said. “There are not many guards in this league that are better than Klay, defensively.”
Westbrook learned that lesson, once again, Saturday night.
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