Stephen Curry went 11-27, and 3-14 from the three point line. Kevin Durant went 10-17 and made 11-12 from the free throw line. If you told me before the game that those facts were the future, I would have shrugged and said, "Hey, can't win 'em all." I probably also would have kidnapped you — clairvoyance has gotta be worth a king's ransom. And yet tonight, the Golden State Warriors found a way to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, the undisputed number one team in the entire NBA. And somehow — somehow — it wasn't all that surprising.
Ok, it was a little surprising. At least for me, and I know for many other life-long, die-hard fans of the Dubs. Beating the Clippers is one thing — we'd done it twice earlier in the season, and this team (and fanbase) sure manages to rouse up some cockiness for Clipper contests. But OKC? We've gone too many years getting demolished by dominant frontrunners like the Thunder. I've wrote about this before, but Warrior fans are conditioned to lack confidence going into these sorts of games. Post-We Believe, someone (maybe on GSoM) had made a "WE SUCK" parody sign, and I wouldn't be surprised if a small legion of fans actually waived them around at Oracle. Those sorts of images are etched into my Golden State consciousness.
But I think that's beginning to subside in many of us. This Warrior team has continually proven to us — and they've had to — that they're as good as their record states. They've beaten the Clips thrice, beat the Heat at home, and only have 15 losses well before the All Star break. Pythagoras be damned — what the hell does he know?
This game was a testament to how solid this Warriors team is. They maintained their defensive pressure throughout, even when Durant was hitting demoralizingly stupid shots that only a 7-foot shooting guard would contemplate. They moved the ball when the outside shots turned to bricks. They had elements of a great game plan that they stuck to, and ditched some things that weren't working. They fought on the boards all night against a decidedly bigger team. And everybody got in the act — of course, led by the likely All Star duo of Curry and David Lee.
I'll just get this out of the way:
Despite a rough shooting night from Steph, I'm giving him the Warrior Wonder tonight. He was scorching in the 3rd quarter, played good defense throughout, and of course, made the penultimate play of the game that had the Thunder dumbstruck. He ended with 7 assists, just 2 of the Warriors' 15 turnovers, put pressure on the Thunder all night to come up with 4 steals, and even managed a shimmy from his knees after an incredible and-1 off the glass.
Sure, he then proceeded to miss the next four shots after his kneeling jig, but that swagger display is a welcome addition to his game this year. We don't really see his slumping shoulders anymore, his hanging head and looks of self-loathing. We also don't see many of those lazy passes at the top of the key that led to depressing dunkathons. Steph has clearly stepped into his own as a leader on this team — THE leader, even with Lee's vocalness, and with Jarrett Jack's natural tendency to be that guy. I think Mark Jackson has done a helluva job managing the personalities of the team this year, and his coaching of Curry is no exception. Before long, I'll probably be writing an SBN-
mandated recommended Coach of the Year post, raving about Jackson's work with this group of ambulatory ballers.
David Lee looked early on as though he might still be shaking off the effects of that sprained ankle from last week. I realized pretty quickly that it wasn't his lack of ankle confidence, but rather, his lack of a pump fake, as Serge Ibaka repeatedly Motumbo'd him into sadness. Seriously, did watching Dorell Wright pump fake himself to the moon scare Lee away from the concept completely? Despite the Congolese fury unleashed upon him, Lee showed he doesn't lack for mental toughness either, and he adjusted his approach, managing to hit a few trademark silly touch shots that we've grown accustomed to. He also hit the glass with reckless abandon, grabbing 4 offensive rebounds, converting those into much-needed inside buckets. He ended the night as he often does: with 20+ points, 10+ rebounds (leading the league in that pairing), and everyone else walking away wondering how and when he became a competent defensive player.
Lots of other subplots surrounding other players tonight: Carl Landry having a nice offensive game and also battling on the boards; Klay Thompson showing flashes of what could have been a tremendous offensive showing, negated by some predictably poor defense on Durant leading to his fouling out in just 30 minutes; Harrison Barnes actually doing a tremendous job on defense and on the glass, contributing to the win without doing much of anything offensively, and all that after seemingly having lost a fair share of his minutes to Richard Jefferson and Draymond Green (who combined for just 17 minutes compared to HB's 26); Jack, actually hurting the team quite a bit despite the 8 total assists, but hitting one of the best "NONONONONONOYESSS!!!!" shots of the season (henceforth called a "Jack"); and Festus Ezeli, who couldn't catch a basketball if it were made of money and covered in glue, somehow coming up with 3 steals, including a lovely mid-pass snag.
Sure, the Thunder played a flawed game in many respects. Their usual turnover problem reared its beautiful head; Durant and Russell Westbrook finished the game with 6 turnovers apiece, and the team finished with 19 total. Westbrook had an absolutely terrible night, going 3-16 from the field and generally playing poor defense against Curry. Yeah, Kevin Martin did his usual Warrior Killer impression, and Kendrick Perkins was threatening a career game with some offensive moves no living man has seen him make. But ultimately, a great offensive night by Durant and contributions from those other guys were overcome by the Warriors, who shot a worse percentage than their foes (44% to 46.2%) but still made enough winning plays to win.
And this team will continue to win. I have no doubt about that anymore. Well, ok, there's still some doubt — I'm a Warrior fan.