The Oklahoma City Kevin Durants waltzed into Oracle Arena, into the house that Stephen Curry built in the past half decade, and put on an aerial assault that fans were used to only from their superstar. The butt-pat shows up after every Durant make, and they kept coming in the first half, against Draymond Green, over Harrison Barnes, around Andre Iguodala. It didn't much matter who the Warriors threw at him, Durant wasn't fazed or even remotely harassed. So began one storyline of one of the greatest halves of basketball, if not the best, I have ever witnessed.
Russell Westbrook was just like you and me in the first half, "Just sit back and watch. As you know he is the best player in the world and when he gets going like that there's not much anyone can do."
On the other side, it wasn't a made-for-TV dual between Curry and Durant but the combined counterpunch of a Warriors offense that is much improved from the aspect that it needs Curry in a lesser capacity. The Thunder, boasting frenetically long defensive players, attacked Curry all night long. If it wasn't Russell Westbrook viciously attacking the ball, it was Kevin Durant smothering him on a switch, or Serge Ibaka enveloping all driving lanes on a pick-and-roll blitz.
The Warriors countered a season ago by getting ball quickly out of Curry's hands and allowing David Lee to attack 4-on-3 defenses. It worked in the postseason against the Los Angeles Clippers. But the Thunder are a different level athletically. They aren't the Memphis Grizzlies in terms of discipline and toughness but can fly to the ball like no other team can. Ask the San Antonio Spurs.
There was a strange calmness to the team. Down 14 late in the first quarter, they slowly started to chip away. It resembles a blur now but the Warriors got a steadying influence from Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala off the bench. The open shots were still created from Curry's gravitational pull on a defense but an offense so predicated on the Splash Brothers got contributions from everyone in a non-surprisingly manner - in one that's happened all season long. In a time of desperation, they went back to the well. Without Andrew Bogut, many, including yours truly, was prepared to write the team off at least partially against elite teams due to its lack of offensive flow and rim protection. Instead, Livingston did as he has all season, taking what's there, especially the increasingly effective turnaround jumper. Iguodala has bounced back from an atrocious start and is nailing threes again while remaining forceful in transition. Barnes is slashing to the basket and making open shots all while crashing the boards. And the least surprising in his breakout season, Green is able to do everything asked despite undersized against nearly everyone.
That's how this Warriors team is going to overcome their own injuries and other teams. Granted, they barely held on with Durant out for the entire second half but the first half's recovery against a blitzkrieg for the ages signified the improvement not just in the starters, but the depth and controlled approach of the role players.
When the second half arrived, it was like the air was socked out of a hot air balloon. The crowd barely cheered knowing the game was the Warriors for the taking. The lead slid from 5-7 points comfortably before Westbrook took over and put his team up one. Then two things happened. Curry, not really known for demonstrative celebrations (unlike Marreese Speights who celebrated a first half run like Draymond Green on steroids), did a full guttural scream and chest pound to boot after a layup with a minute left. Then with about 20 seconds left and up only 3, Curry passed to Barnes iso-ing against Reggie Jackson in the post. If that sounds familiar, don't bother bringing it up. Barnes dribbled and dribbled, without the mask he threw in frustration after a loose ball scuffle seconds before, before floating in a turnaround fadeaway jumper.
Kerr wasn't too enthused about it, "I'm not a big fan of iso and throw the ball in the post" but it worked in perhaps their biggest game of the season. The Warriors won and kept improving, even when they've seemed to regress towards bad habits in the largest moment in the game. That's what 22-3 does.
1. There was the hanging floater in the lane. There was the dribble-drive hesitation into the left-handed overhead pass to the short corner for a Festus Ezeli made jumper (!!). There was the flyby three point bucket. Klay Thompson is absolutely stealing Stephen Curry's signature moves. And it's making him a much more improved offensive player. He is beyond fun to watch right now.
2. Andre Iguodala is also extremely entertaining to watch when he's on on defense. He came in to guard Kevin Durant but ended up locking down Westbrook and Reggie Jackson in key moments. He kept shuttling the OKC wing players into bad baseline drives after kickouts and smothered drivers all night long. On one shot clock violation, the OKC offense was cluttered and static because Iguodala had denied Westbrook the ball and OKC didn't seem to want to get it back to him through motion. It was a genius piece of defense from one of the best. If sixth men are named microwaves for their offense, Iguodala is the freezer.
On offense, he's been a bit more aggressive, as most fans have wanted. But that also comes with the bad. In transition, Iguodala drove to the basket and got fouled. A passive Iguodala would have kicked it out to a wide-open Curry. There are two sides to most things but there was an instance where an aggressive Iguodala isn't exactly the most effective.
3. That first half was insane. If you have League Pass, or TiVo, or whatever, watch it. Rewatch it. Frame it.
4. Is there anything left to say about Draymond Green? 44 minutes. 14 points. 9 boards. 9 assists. Lots of screaming. Pay the damn man his money.
5. Justin Holiday got some run in the first and second half. Against certain teams, even most teams, the Warriors best lineup will be Green at the five. The Warriors packed the paint against Westbrook and Ibaka in this game, forcing the Thunder to swing it to their offensively-challenged wing players. In situations like this, Holiday should be able to play, provided that he can make the occasional corner three. He missed a wide-open one today but is long and athletic enough to matter. At least, it appears he has passed Leandro Barbosa and Brandon Rush on the depth chart.
6. There was a little fun trash talk before the game. 10 points, 5 rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes. Two point and one rebound in 16 minutes. You decide.
7. Steve Kerr after the game admitted that the team played the second half extremely tired and was partially to blame for a slower style of basketball. Green and Curry combined to log 86 minutes. The Warriors don't get the Sacramento Kings until next Monday so they'll have a couple days off to rest. They are also hoping to have David Lee ready to go by then.