One thing that Golden State Warriors fans have learned about their team this season: when they feel challenged, they show up in a big way.
And for the first half of Monday night, Dubs fans got what they paid for. The Warriors rolled out to a commanding 60-47 halftime lead.
The Warriors did it on both ends of the floor. They shot masterfully on offense, hitting north of 50%, without turning the ball over. On top of that, they got a vintage Splash Brothers performance from Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. On defense, the Warriors hounded Russell Westbrook all half, as the point guard opened 1-of-10 from the field.
Kerr went to a semi-bench lineup early, to open the second. He inserted Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli into the game alongside starter Harrison Barnes. Not much changed, as the Warriors continued to push the pace and find open looks up and down the floor. And they hit them.
As promised, the Warriors exercised their strategy of sacrificing fast break play for defensive rebounds, and it worked early. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson repeatedly crashed the defensive glass to compensate for the Thunder front line size advantage. In doing so, they fought off the massive rebounding deficits that plagued them in the regular season series, while at the same time maintaining essential mismatches on the front line (Kanter on Draymond Green? lol okay).
The Thunder were only 3-of-6 from 3-point range at the half, a result of the Warriors masterfully denying them looks. Except in a few instances, where the Thunder found a spot up shooter like Randy Foye open in the corner, the Warriors largely dictated that the Thunder subsist on Serge Ibaka midrange jumpers. As a result, Ibaka had 10 field goal attempts to Russ and KD's 18, combined. Advantage: Warriors.
The Dubs carried a 25-23 rebounding advantage at half, a far cry from the regular season series, where the Thunder regularly dominated the glass.
Spirits were high as the Thunder offense collapsed in the third quarter. Except for Russell Westbrook, that is. The UCLA product exploded for 19 third quarter points (he had three entering the period), single-handedly keeping OKC in striking distance as the rest of the Thunder failed to find the range. A Kevin Durant iso-bucket cut the 14-point halftime deficit to three, entering the decisive fourth quarter.
The conservative Warriors brought Stephen Curry back somewhat late, with about eight minutes left in the fourth, but they went small with Livingston in for Bogut as they trailed 95-93. Unfortunately, Golden State went into a deep funk all quarter, missing eight consecutive three-point attempts (they finished 11-for-30 from deep, compared to the Thunder's 8-for-17). At the same time, they surrendered second chance points to the bigger Thunder, as expected. A rare double-whammy the Small Ball Death Squad lineup has rarely experienced.
The Warriors opened the fourth 2-for-13 from the field as the home team consistently bricked wide open shot after wide open shot -- a refrain most recently sung in San Antonio (that certainly did not end well for the Spurs). That appeared to be over when Stephen Curry railed his sixth three-pointer from the bottom corner, chopping a daunting nine-point deficit to six with three minutes remaining. From there, Green sunk a runner and the Dubs (and the home crowd) were back in business.
Until they weren't.
The Thunder continued to fend off the Warriors, staying one step ahead of the Blue and Gold throughout, thanks to forced turnovers and solid defensive play. The Warriors could not make enough shots in the fourth quarter to keep pace, scoring a sad 14 points for the quarter. That's not an amount that will beat anyone, let alone a team as good as the Thunder.
Yet again, there was more late game Thunder controversy as Russell Westbrook appeared to travel, only to be credited with a timeout (you can generally tell when the Warriors get hosed because Steve Kerr loses his normally even-keeled, lovable, mellow mind). The play happened with less than a minute remaining, while the Thunder were up three (a turnover would've given the Warriors a chance to tie). Instead, the timeout allowed OKC to retain possession, and the ensuing intentional foul resulted in a single free throw make. With the score 106-102, and just 15 seconds remaining, the Warriors were cooked.
Credit the Thunder for not giving up. Despite that, it's tough not to be bitter about this one. The Warriors simply must hit shots, and they couldn't come close this fourth quarter. For the first time since 2014, the Dubs suddenly look like underdogs.
The Thunder turned the ball over just two times in the second half. That's phenomenal play that will lead to a lot of wins, no matter who is on the court.
Marreese Speights was somehow defended exceedingly well by 6'4" Randy Foye, who limited the center to one point on two post-ups.
The Warriors wasted a vintage performance from its three all-stars, as the Dubs cogs finished with 74 points, combined.
The Thunder duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were horribly inefficient, yet the Thunder won anyway. For the first time all season, they made the Warriors stars volume shooters, and they won the turnover, free throw and rebounding battle. And they essentially tied the 'shooting battle.' This isn't a game the Warriors deserved to win, period.
Anyway: random highlights. There weren't many.
Won't be the last time Stephen Curry puts Enes Kanter in a Vine this series (via @bballbreakdown): https://t.co/mpNSGqTh5f— RealGM (@RealGM) May 17, 2016
Stephen Curry https://t.co/ja301J0YJF— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 17, 2016
.@klaythompson and the art of the quick-release three. #SPLASH on @nbaontnt. pic.twitter.com/TuGIHSCUsp— GoldenStateWarriors (@warriors) May 17, 2016
Good job, good effort.