OAKLAND, Calif. — It feels like we should all be surprised with what happened on Monday night at Oracle, but in some ways, maybe we should’ve seen it coming.
There’s no question the Warriors are the favorites. They’ve earned that, and then some. But the Thunder aren’t some standard 55-win team anymore. They’ve evolved past that, finding a new identity and a rock solid plan and belief that was missing two months ago. They’ve been working for this, to be the kind of team that can stomp on the Spurs three straight times, and then turn around and take Game 1 on the road against the Warriors.
Was it some manifestation of ideal basketball? Was it Billy Donovan’s system finally coming to fruition? Not really. It was really just that the Thunder have simplified themselves into a very direct, and very formidable team. They defend. They rebound. They find a way to get the ball in the basket. They aren’t really the flashy bunch they’re billed to be.
There were so many points where it felt like this game was going to get away from the Thunder. They led by as many as 14, and they kept hitting OKC with body blows. Steph Curry’s 3 right before half particularly felt gut-punch-ish. The Thunder kept cutting it down to nine, to eight, to six, but then it would balloon back to 10, to 12, to 14. The Warriors kept answering everything, and the Thunder kept keeping in it.
Finally, Russell Westbrook shook loose. He had three points on 1-8 shooting in the first half, but after that first 3 went down in the third quarter — and objectively terrible shot late in the clock, mind you — he was going. He finished with 27 plus 12 assists and seven steals. He ran the Thunder’s offense and selectively picked spots to attack and pull back. He got them in the game.
Kevin Durant then hit a 3 on the first possession of the fourth and there it was, a tie game with 12 minutes to go. The Thunder just kept grinding through, playing defense, rebounding, getting the ball to go in just enough. Steven Adams — who was magnificent, again — drew a foul with a minute left and knocked down two free throws. Durant, who had missed five straight and was 2-11 in the fourth, rose up and canned a big one to put OKC up five with 30 seconds left.
Then the best part: The Thunder didn’t allow an easy bucket after four seconds. Andre Iguodala got a layup, but it took some time and effort to get it. Westbrook hit two free throws, and again, the Warriors couldn’t get a clean look. Curry missed a flailing 3, and the game was done.
“I thought it was a story of two halves for us,” Billy Donovan said. “I thought the turnovers in the first half really hurt us. They really, I think, punished us in transition off of our turnovers. Missed six free throws and then even our transition besides the turnovers was a difficult problem for us. So I thought in the second half we did a much, much better job. We took better care of the basketball which enabled us to get back in transition, and I think probably play better defense.”
Now. That’s one game. In the same way you can’t overreact to a negative result, you shouldn’t for a positive. The Thunder have to do this three more times, a daunting task. They have their one necessary win in Oracle, a grand accomplishment, and now can focus on getting greedy in Game 2.
- Billy Donovan says he felt early defensive schemes might have been too confusing for them: “One was probably to my fault earlier in the year trying to, I don’t want to say play different pick-and-roll coverages, but more trying to have guys make reads in pick-and-roll defenses. Where the ball gets to, when we should late- switch it, when we should trap it. I think at times, to be honest with you, I think it was a little too confusing for them and it was too much. As we maybe simplified some things and made it very, very clear and a little bit more concrete. We’ve gotten put into some situations where like anything, if you just do one thing all the time defensively, somebody’s going to really, really expose you. You have to have flexibility with what you’re doing defensively. So we have our core package and our core base which I think we”
- I love the “Give [insert person or team] credit, but…” line. If you’re going to say the Warriors just missed shots or that Curry’s not entirely healthy, you’re not really giving the Thunder credit.
- This game just had a real weird vibe to it. The crowd was very late arriving — likely due to the 6 p.m. local tip — and the pace and energy was just off.
- The Thunder beat the Warriors with Durant and Westbrook shooting 17-51 and missing 10 free throws.
- Here’s the ballgame: 10 turnovers in the first half; two in the second half.
- Donovan said it last week during the series against the Spurs — you have to be able to play random basketball. There’s only so much your halfcourt execution can do, especially when teams spend outrageous time and resources on scouting and preparation. The Warriors, are the world’s undisputed best at random basketball. They generate offense out of literally one kick-ahead pass in transition that turns into a Klay Thompson 3. That’s tough to absorb, but the Thunder did it just enough.
- The Warriors did not guard Andre Roberson at all. They stuck Draymond Green on him and basically let Green double at will.
- When Roberson catches the ball he should just stand there for a couple seconds. Draymond isn’t guarding anyone and is camped in the paint. Could get a cheap three second call.
- Donovan deserves lots of praise. He’s adapted, grown, and developed. He’s not afraid to try something else. He’s reacted quickly in games, and hasn’t been stubborn or rigid.
- Durant: “I mean, you hear it all the time, defense wins. We get stops and if we don’t score, we try not to let the other team score. So we miss shots, that’s going to happen, and that’s part of being who we are as leaders of this team. We miss shots. But we just stayed with it on the defensive end, and I think when we got the shots late in the game, we were able to focus in and knock them down.”
- Westbrook got beat up in the first half. Bogut got him with a flagrant, then he had a big collision with Klay Thompson. “Yeah, man, this is the time of the year where you’re going to get hit, but you have to find a way to get back up,” he said. “I think my teammates do a great job of constantly keep trusting in me and trusting in my abilities to help us win games. I came back in the second half and tried to find ways to impact the game and it helped us out.”
- Thompson is such an outrageous shooter. Like, perfection.
- The Warriors took some horrible shots tonight. They roll you up when those are all falling, but some of them were really terrible.
- Westbrook on Dion Waiters: “It’s maturity. I think he’s done a great job all season trying to find ways where he’s comfortable and I think now he’s matured, especially this time of the year. He’s doing a great job of being consistent and he’s playing well for us.”
- So, more controversy. Westbrook definitely traveled. But the Thunder were definitely trying to get a timeout called before it. So in one sense, it should’ve been a travel because it happened before the Thunder were awarded the timeout. In another, the refs missed the timeout call as well.
Next up: Game 2 in Oakland on Wednesday