OKLAHOMA CITY » 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 that tied the series at two games apiece. It was Oklahoma City’s ninth straight home victory over San Antonio.
"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 maddening for Thunder fans to watch. His 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.
Serge Ibaka added nine points and eight rebounds for the Thunder, who have turned around the series since he returned from an injury.
"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."
Boris Diaw had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Tony Parker added 14 points for the Spurs. San Antonio will host Game 5 on Thursday and won’t be worried about the past.
"We worked hard all year to have home court advantage, and now, it’s our job to protect home court," Parker said.
Oklahoma City dominated for the second consecutive game after getting blown out in the first two. The Thunder committed just seven turnovers and shot 49 percent from the field.
The Spurs scored the first eight points of the game, but things went downhill from there. The Thunder led 58-43 at halftime. Durant scored 22 points and Westbrook added 17 points, eight assists and four steals before the break.