The point guard battle between Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul fulfilled even the grandest of expectations. Westbrook was absolutely stellar, demonstrating a discipline he so rarely did in the first round. Paul, meanwhile, was his usual Point God-self, orchestrating the offense with surgical precision. Each performed at the peak of their differing styles, which provided a theater and drama noticeably absent from the regular season.
It was a wild, back-and-forth affair, a duel of differing styles – calculation versus spontaneity, manipulation versus brute force, reliability versus volatility.
Both Paul and Westbrook can win their team a game, even a series. Paul, however, will rarely be the reason for a loss (Game Five being the rare exception), while Westbrook could very well cost his team everything. While that may make Paul the safer pick, it’s also what may make Westbrook the more exciting one.
When Paul wows us, it’s with moves well within his capabilities.By now, we know his passing and vision is near-unparalleled, so while a certain pass may amaze us, it doesn’t necessarily surprise us. Westbrook’s highlights seemingly manifest from the implausible. Even though he’s been in the league for six years, we’re still not sure as to the full extent of his abilities.
Paul shows a poise and control Westbrook has yet to learn, especially in the half-court. He probes with a purpose, snaking through one end of the lane and emerging out of the other, always with a plan in mind and always seemingly armed with four or five contingency plans should his first option fail. In the pick and roll, Paul is near unstoppable. Go under the screen, and he’ll make you pay from deep, just as he did to the Thunder in Game One with his eight three-pointers. Trap him, and he’ll make the perfect pass to the open man. Go over the screen, and he’ll snake through the lane, wherein he has his choice of floater, pull-up, or lobbing it to an anxious DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin. Yet these are all dependable, predictable movements. That doesn’t make them any easier, nor any less effective. It’s a favorite record that refuses to get old.
With Westbrook, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. While Paul bounces out of a pick and roll – head ever-erect, surveying the entire court for even the slimmest of opportunity while planning for every circumstance – Westbrook explodes, making decisions on the fly, because planning is just so boring. This improvisation allows for spectacular success and catastrophic failures – a thunderous dunk is just as likely as wild, off-balance three-pointer that never stood a chance. It can be maddening, especially when Westbrook refuses to adjust to what isn’t working and continues to launch that pull-up, free-throw jumper that didn’t fall the last five times, but there’s a fun, an amusement of sorts in not knowing if you can do something and yet still trying.
Chris Paul is like falling in love with your best friend — it’s easy, comfortable, and by now you know them so well that while you can still be amazed by some of the things they do, you’re not necessarily surprised. You take Chris Paul home to your mother. You buy a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence, a mortgage, two kids, and a golden retriever named JJ.
You wouldn’t dream of taking Russell Westbrook home to meet your parents. Westbrook is the tattooed girl that whispers horrible, exciting things in your ear, that has piercings in places you didn’t know could be pierced, that exudes danger and thrill. Westbrook tells you to drop your high-paying, soul-sucking management consulting job, rent a trailer, and take an epic road trip throughout the United States, and you do it too, because that 401k safety net isn’t a safety net at all, it’s a cage preventing you from really living.
It may turn out horribly. You may lose everything, including the shirt off your back. But rage and frustration will never wholly consume you, because there will survive at least the tiniest fraction of you that turns to the flaming wreckage with a wicked smile and says “let’s do that again.”