Stephen Curry danced to his left, with Anthony Roberson draped all over him as he hoisted a 30-foot 3, and drained it like so many times during his MVP season. As he pranced his way down the court as the buzzer sounded, the Golden State Warriors took a 13-point lead into halftime. The Warriors, a team destined for greatness and historically hyperbolic anecdotes, would take the first game of a much-hyped Western Conference Finals and coast their way to the NBA Finals.
As the triple digits once again blared inside Oracle Arena, the mood had completely shifted. From the utter euphoria that has permeated Oakland throughout the season, one could feel Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant forcibly walk off the court in near defiance. Later Durant would say, "What's to celebrate?"
The Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that has been to the NBA Finals, and just finished knocking off one of the greatest regular season teams of all time in the San Antonio Spurs, had come into Oracle Arena and wrestled one away by playing more composed, poised, and intelligently.
When the final score, 108-102 reflected the Thunder's winning effort, the Warriors players and coaches knew they were outplayed and soundly so in the second half. There was no missed traveling call that could save me. It wasn't some type of schematic change that brought their offense to a screaming halt in the second half. It was not some random draft of wind that kept pushing their open shots wayward on their path to the bucket. The Warriors lost composure and failed to lock down a game in the Western Conference Finals.
Kerr came to the presser and immediately noted the lack of poise. Steph had a little extra to add, "We got rushed a little bit and went for the home run plays. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. We need to have the composure to slow it down."
For a team that had rallied from 1-2 deficits twice last season, losing the first of a series was unfamiliar territory. As the Warriors toggled repeatedly between the line of playing desperate (good) or reckless abandon basketball (bad), they skirted past the margin of error. The Warriors, in a moment of added pressure, lost control and crashed and burned against a more athletic Thunder team.
Like the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder defense led by Steven Adams, Kevin Durant and the never-ending limbs of Serge Ibaka and Anthony Roberson stuck the Warriors motion offensive into a vice and never let go in the halfcourt set. After 60 points in the first half, the Thunder slowed it all the way down and only allowed 6 Steph Curry shots in the 4th quarter. Like the Spurs, the Warriors were relegated to an unseemly amount of isolations and forced looks at the rim.
Unlike the Spurs, the Warriors have the best player in the world, and his ability to break down a defense repeatedly and without any help. On Monday night, it wasn't there, and for the Warriors to get back to an even playing level, Curry will need to carry the Warriors on his back, sprained knee or not. No, the struggles aren't on Curry, who turned the ball over 7 times (most unforced), and who missed plenty of open looks while eschewing others as well. If the Warriors lose, it will not solely fall on any Warrior.
But for the Warriors to combat the quick unbalanced shots on offense, lack of defensive rebounding, and the lethargic energy for minutes at a half during games, Stephen Curry will need to lift this entire team by his lonesome. This season has been about him, will continue to revolve around him, and the Warriors could not be in better hands.
When I asked about the lack of on-ball attack from Steph, he responded by saying it's part of the offense they run, but they will go back and look at the tape and make the appropriate adjustments. In other words, don't expect the Warriors to keep Curry silent again when it matters in crunchtime. The offensive scheme is important and the base to your game plan. But sometimes, and with the Warriors, most of the time, when it truly starts to count, you simply need to entrust the ball into your best player's hands and let him go.
The Golden State Warriors are now down a game in the Western Conference Finals and they need their best player to just go.