A dramatic improvement for his play at point guard hasn’t been enough for Russell Westbrook to have his game no longer picked apart.
During the regular season, Oklahoma City finished with the third best record in the NBA despite leading the league in turnovers per game and ranking last in assists.
A converted shooting guard, Westbrook has been selected to the past two All-Star games because of his ability to slash to the basket and finish tremendously athletic plays.
In 66 regular season games, he finished with just seven double-doubles and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.51 ranked 44th out of the 45 point guards to play enough minutes to qualify among the league leaders.
In four seasons, Westbrook has led the entire league in turnovers twice and a year ago, he committed 78 turnovers in just 17 games, more than any other player during the 2011 playoffs.
This year, Westbrook has been much more careful with the basketball, turning it over just 38 times in 17 games and his 2.68 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks second to Rajon Rondoamong players to appear in 12 playoff games.
Over the first two games in the NBA Finals, Westbrook is averaging 27 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, one steal and has committed just four turnovers in nearly 84 minutes of play.
As the Thunder went into halftime of Game 2 trailing by 12 points, NBA analyst and Hall of Fame point guard Magic Johnson declared Westbrook was playing one of the worst performances of any point guard in Finals history.
Westbrook has taken 50 shots over the first two games, eight more attempts than leading Kevin Durant, but is shooting just 40 percent from the field. Durant is shooting 57 percent over the first two games and has sank four 3-point shots in each contest but his points have come primarily late in the game with his team trailing.
As Westbrook races towards the rim, often he is out of control, but his erratic style of play is precisely what makes him an asset to the Thunder’s offensive attack.
Oklahoma City has fallen behind by double digits in each of the two opening quarters of the Finals as Westbrook has connected on just 2-of-11 shot attempts.
The Thunder were able to prevail in the series opener as Westbrook dominated the third quarter, scoring 12 points and dishing out four assists that either led to a dunk or layup.
Westbrook gave Oklahoma City the lead after being fouled while laying the ball in to complete the comeback.
The Thunder never trailed in fourth quarter as Durant scored 17 points.
In a nearly identical performance, Oklahoma City staged a furious comeback, as Durant scored 26 of his 32 points in the second half, but he was hit by LeBron James during a potential game tying shot with nine seconds remaining.
Westbrook totaled nine points and two assists in the fourth quarter but the Thunder was unable to recover after the no call on James.
Miami held on for a 100-96 victory and handed the Thunder its first post season loss at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Heat led throughout and Oklahoma City couldn’t recover from a 17 point deficit in the first half.
If the Thunder is going to claim the first title for the franchise since 1979, it has to score early in Game 3.
There was some speculation coach Scott Brooks would alter his starting lineup to provide additional scoring options, but no change will be made to the lineup.
The Heat is outscoring Oklahoma City 56-37 in the first quarter and as a team, the Thunder is shooting 36.8 percent and averaging 3.5 turnovers int he period.
The Thunder has trailed for a majority of the Finals, but it can’t afford to fall behind tonight. Miami has posted an 8-2 record at AmericanAirlines Arena and is averaging 99.4 points per game at home during the playoffs.
Sunday’s game may be the most important of the series, as the winner of Game 3 of a tied series has won 11 of the past 12 times.
The starting lineup won’t change and the aggressive style of Westbrook shouldn’t be any different either.
Westbrook has maintained he will not change his style of play but keeping Durant involved, especially early has to be a priority.
Throughout the 2012 post season, Westbrook has honed his point guard skills, dramatically reducing his turnovers and finding a way to keep his teammates involved.
As the series shifts to Miami tonight, he just needs to find a way to provide an immediate impact.