5 min read

Five Thoughts from Thunder/Warriors

The Thunder snapped a four-game losing streak on Tuesday night in Oakland, completely dismantling the Golden State Warriors by a final score of 125-105. Because it was a resounding victory on national-television, there were some notes left in the notebook after writing the recap. Here’s a bit more on last night’s triumph.

1) Russell Westbrook and the pursuit of perfection

In the first half of last night’s game, Royce Young tweeted “OKC’s best shot at holding up against the Warriors’ barrage is as close to perfection as Westbrook can give” and it’s incredible how true that is. A lot has to break in the right direction in order to beat the Warriors once, let alone twice. In both games against Golden State this season, Russell Westbrook has been sublime.

The Warriors made waves prior to the season, saying they believed Westbrook’s style of play “is so easy to defend it’s like cake to them.” While it’s ridiculous to think guarding Westbrook could ever be an enjoyable experience, the idea of finding it manageable in the past isn’t all that difficult to wrap your mind around. Westbrook averaged 27.3 points in four games against Golden State last season, but shot just 37.5 percent and turned the ball over eight times per contest. Making him attempt to win the game by himself probably was pretty easy to do — especially when knowing he didn’t have the firepower around him to make it happen. He tried to do too much against the Dubs, resulting in far from perfect outcomes.

However, this Westbrook (the one with Paul George at his side) has shot 49 percent in two games against the Warriors this season, averaging 34 points and cut the turnovers to five per contest. He’s been cool and measured, yet fiery when needed. A perfect example of this was the first quarter last night, when he went nuclear in the first 12 minutes and scored 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting. He later deferred, shooting only seven times after halftime and allowing Paul George to take over down the stretch.

There’s still two more against the Warriors in the regular season, with the possibility of even more come playoffs. Westbrook will again need to be as close to perfect as humanly possible every time out, but so far he’s been up to the task.

2) Paul George Superstar

Paul George dropped a game-high 38 points last night, shooting 6/11 from downtown and scoring 21 points in the second half alone. Despite the offensive showing, his most impressive work came on the defensive end, as he tallied six steals and had a hand in nearly every play he was remotely close to.

Although PG13 played in a number of big games in Indiana, it feels safe to say that playing in the Western Conference — particularly in the must-see TV that is Thunder/Warriors — brings out the best in the five-time All-Star. He made play after play offensively, while simultaneously making life a living hell for Golden State on the other end. His calm, cool demeanor is the perfect compliment to Westbrook’s scorched-earth approach, but it was easy to see that he was really feeling it.

I mean, look at this attitude:

George is now averaging 30.5 PPG on 52 percent shooting in February — hitting 47 percent of his three-point attempts. The guy that showed up last night in Oakland is a bona fide superstar, and exactly the player the Thunder needs in the stretch run of this season + playoffs. Right now his case for Defensive Player of the Year is undeniable.

3) No Melo, no problem

Carmelo Anthony left after six minutes of action due to a sprained ankle, an injury that had virtually no negative impact on the Thunder. To be fair, he played well in the first match-up with Golden State, scoring 22 points on 8/17 from the field. However, he’s shooting just 31 percent from the floor in February — 18 percent from downtown. That type of production wasn’t difficult to replace against the Warriors.

In his place, Jerami Grant saw 35 minutes, with Patrick Patterson logging a season-high 30 minutes of action. Their stat lines:

Grant: 16 pts, 4 reb, 3 blk, 2 ast, 5/8 FG, 1/2 3P

Patterson: 4 pts, 4 reb, 3 stl, 1/6 FG

Both men played exceptionally well (as did much of the Thunder second unit), helping OKC maintain and grow the double-digit lead established early. For their efforts, Grant was a plus-17 and Patterson was a plus-12. Patterson didn’t have a great night shooting the basketball, but he’s one of the Thunder’s best defenders and a guy that has a knack for making the right play at the right time. He’s the best player off the bench and a guy that should get much more run with the starters.

Aside from Grant and Patterson, I’d be remiss not to mention how good Westbrook and George looked running a two-man game. The offensive was moving, decisions came easy, and both got more than 20 field goal attempts. Melo has struggled mightily lately and his teammates just looked unstoppable in a complete dismantling of the NBA’s best team without him. The Thunder should be in no immediate hurry to rush him back from the ankle sprain, and re-evaluate his role moving forward. Sliding him to the second unit still makes a tremendous amount of sense.

4) To Kevin’s credit…

Kevin Durant was excellent, basically carrying the Warriors with his 33 points on 8/14 shooting. Outside of his on-court performance, his attitude in last night’s game was remarkably different than in previous match-ups with OKC. There was no screaming, no clapping, no heated exchanges with his former teammates. As he continually says he wishes to just play basketball, last night that’s all he did. It was refreshing.

There was also this, which looks like an unusually friendly exchange between he and Westbrook. (Sorry for the quality — only clip I could find)

Not much…but it’s a start.

5) What happens now matters most

As was the case when the Thunder destroyed the Cavaliers on January 20, the way the team performs moving forward is more important than anything that happened last night. After all, one game is just one game — the Thunder did come in on a four-game losing streak with losses to the Lakers and Pelicans involved.

Despite the resounding victory, the Thunder is still a flawed team that likely needs to make a move ahead of tomorrow’s trade deadline. Josh Huestis, Jerami Grant and Alex Abrines all performed well last night, but the 55 game sample size suggests they won’t be enough to push OKC over the top. Getting defensive help on the wing, and perhaps even a backup center, still remains of the utmost importance for the long term outlook. For as dominant as the Thunder looked against the Warriors, it’s been obvious that changes are necessary.

That being said, the win alone can and should serve as a springboard for the final 27 games of the regular season. The Thunder gets the Lakers, Memphis twice, Cleveland and Sacramento before facing the Warriors again on February 24 back in Oakland. The potential is there for another extended winning streak — something that will most certainly happen if the team plays with the same urgency it had last night in the Bay. Finding that consistency remains the biggest obstacle for this OKC team.