The Oklahoma City Thunder gave the Golden State Warriors their toughest challenge of the season, but they fell short by a score of 116-108 Saturday night. The Thunder fought back on the road from a 20-point deficit to tie the game with 3:33 left in the game but couldn’t quite get over the hump.
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with a monster performance by scoring 40 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. Russell Westbrook added 27 points and 12 assists. Off the bench, Enes Kanter produced 14 points and 15 boards. Steph Curry scored 26 points, but he shot just 10-of-25 from the field. With the victory, with the Warriors earned their 41st straight regular-season home win.
Despite the scoring, the Thunder didn’t play a great game. There are still areas they can improve on when it comes to squaring off against the Warriors. There are going to be countless things that will haunt them when they look back at the game. There were some huge stretches where they lost their rhythm and overall balance on offense. Potentially the most dangerous breakdown came early in the game. OKC went 1-of-10 from the field (4-of-7 from the free throw line) from the 3:29 mark of the first quarter to the 8:08 mark of the second quarter. They went from being up 29-26 to down 44-35 in that time period.
The Thunder eventually found their footing on offense, but they let the Warriors run wild after that as they scored 73 points in the opening half. Once the Thunder found their way, they impressively held the Warriors to just 18 points in the third quarter. Eight missed free throws will also haunt the Thunder, as well as only scoring 17 bench points to 42 by the Warriors. Seventeen also equals the amount of turnovers OKC had and points Golden State scored off those turnovers.
Despite the loss, the league is going to ask the Thunder to continue playing out their schedule. OKC will oblige. The Thunder now know that they can hang with the Warriors. They have the athleticism to disrupt Golden State when they try to operate on offense. Sure, the Warriors made the Thunder look silly multiple times when they had the ball, but credit needs to be given for the approach and commitment to guarding the 3-point line. You can say it was probably just one of those nights for Curry and Klay Thompson (combining to go 1-of-14 from 3-point range), but there’s another team out there scheming to make things difficult for them. OKC certainly did that and now have something to work off of in terms of formulating a blueprint to combat Golden State.
The Warriors lead a charmed life, it seems. They certainly earned the victory, but they also possessed some good juju. It’s hard to account for a Marreese Speights fadeaway corner 3-point basket to beat the shot clock. The ball seemed to bounce their way more often than not when it was up for grabs. Those 50/50 possessions are ones that the Thunder are going to have to be able to win if they want to dethrone the champs. Despite all of that, the Thunder showed that they’re tough enough on both ends of the floor to absorb the Warriors’ tidal wave of scoring as they were able to hang around until the final minute or so of the game.
There’s an sense of invincibility hovering around the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. Durant shot that notion down after the game.
“We not scared of either one of those teams,” Durant told reporters. “We gonna play our game. Nobody in this locker room is scared. We’ve got to play them. To get to where we want to get to, we got to play them. We ain’t ducking nobody.”
That’s the right approach to take. Despite the fact the Warriors were able to outlast the Thunder and there were frustrating aspects to the game, there are positives to take away. The Thunder now know that they can hang with the Warriors. They now have to figure out how to beat them. The experiences encountered on Saturday night will be valuable for the remainder of the season and for the next matchup against the Warriors. This will continue when Golden State comes to OKC on Feb. 27. It should be a fun one.
- It felt like the game was lost a bit for OKC whenever the benches started blending into the game more. A major reason for that was that it felt like the stage was just a tad too big for Cameron Payne. Despite that, this is a great teaching moment for the rookie.
- The matchups were going to be fascinating to watch. The Warriors opted to let Curry defend Westbrook. Rightfully so, Westbrook looked to post him up and attack him. Though he wasn’t efficient, it appeared the damage was done because Curry’s shot looked off. You don’t want to shift your philosophy on offense, but making the man Curry is defending work is a sound strategy.
- The Thunder opted to have Durant defend Draymond Green. The challenge with that is that Serge Ibaka has to roam more on the perimeter. That’s a danger in the sense he may not be able to stay with shooters like Harrison Barnes. The end result saw Barnes score 19, and Ibaka was a non-factor in the game.
- Things got a little hairy for Enes Kanter. He was involved in just about every pick-and-roll the Warriors used when he was on the floor and looked out of place early. The backup big man responded and was able to be dominant on the glass and in the post, areas where the Warriors have a “weakness.” If that can be a factor favoring OKC, that is extremely promising.
- This is the first of frequent matchups between the teams for the next month. Clearly, they both wanted to try some things and see what sticks. It’ll be interesting to see adjustments later on.
- Draymond Green had some incredibly valuable rebounds in the fourth quarter. Skying up to grab the ball over Kanter was impressive to see. He’s a unique player and always finds a way to contribute for Golden State. His 14 rebounds proved to be the most valuable component in the win.
- What a photo. Jeff Green, though.
- Various reports indicated that Jay-Z, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, Brett Favre, Andrew Luck, Michael B. Jordan, Dave Chapelle, Jim Harbaugh, and others were in attendance for the game. It shouldn’t be a surprise that stars were out in full force to watch this game. The Super Bowl is being played in Santa Clara, so a premiere basketball event the night before was going to generate a hot ticket.
Next up: At Phoenix on Monday.