The final score was a blowout, but this was a very tightly contested game through the first half. In fact, the Thunder stormed back and the game was 49-49 with 1:12 left in the half. But the Warriors ended the half strong and never looked back in the second half.
Quick Look: Curry Fire
Before we look at the game-breaking first half run, here are some highlights from when Curry caught fire for a few minutes and buried OKC in the third quarter. At 7:14, the Warriors are up 7. At 5:12, the Warriors are up 20, and Stephen Curry has poured in 4-4 on threes (one with foot on line) and 4-4 FTs, for 15 points in two minutes of game time. That is a lot.
- Curry gets Ibaka on the switch from Barnes's screen -- OKC was switching on even the lightest screen. Ibaka is a big who isn't used to covering players that pop out behind a big Andrew Bogut flare screen.
- Post-cross play, Westbrook switches way too easily off Curry, and Ibaka can't get out in time. (More on post-cross: Explain One Play: Andrew Bogut between the legs to Klay Thompson three.)
- Great steal by Bogut, Curry has foot on line on the fast break 3.
- Very nice screen and re-screen by Draymond Green picks off Kevin Durant.
- Sweet back door cut by Curry. Notice how Curry sets up the whole play by directing the ball to Draymond in the low post.
Okay, back to the first half.
01:21 K Thompson Jump Shot: Missed
01:20 Iguodala Rebound (Off:1 Def:1)
01:06 Ezeli Layup Shot: Made (7 PTS) Assist: Green (2 AST)
You get the full Ezeli package here. First, the explosive move to get the first offensive rebound, then losing it despite having two hands on it. Then he throws the awkward pump fake which works and gets the huge layup. Technically, illegally Ezeli spends over four seconds in the lane, but you'd have to be a hard-hearted ref to call that.
00:58.9 Waiters Jump Shot: Missed
00:58.5 Ezeli Rebound (Off:1 Def:1)
00:53.5 K Thompson Step Back Jump shot: Made (10 PTS)
This is another nice Festus Ezeli play. Dion Waiters has been playing like a new man, especially from 3, but he still has some trouble finishing layups. You know the iron law of basketball physics: if you miss a layup, the other team scores.
Here Dion makes a nice drive, but Ezeli steps up to contest his shot, and then the play goes the other way. Probably better would be a drop-off pass to Steven Adams.
00:43.9 Westbrook Turnover : Bad Pass (2 TO) Steal:Iguodala (3 ST)
00:39.5 Iguodala Running Layup Shot: Made (7 PTS); Westbrook Foul: Shooting (1 PF) (1 FTA)
Russell Westbrook shows you a lot of the bad with a little of the good in this sequence. First, he throws a terrible alley-oop to Kevin Durant. This was never going to work, and Andre makes a nice play. Curry makes a not great home run swing at a cross-court pass to Klay, which Westbrook shows some hustle and athleticism to disrupt.
The pass is deflected and goes, luckily, straight to the trailing Andre. Then Andre goes up and Westbrook hustles to contest the shot with his patented "fly-by while bumping the driver with body" move, which should remind you of the exact same foul he committed on Klay at the end of the OT of That Thunder Game (see Explain 1 OT: Curry & Klay Break Records & Hearts).
Andre makes what is known in the business as "a circus shot" which is nicer than calling it a @#$& lucky shot.
00:16.5 Iguodala Alley Oop Dunk Shot: Made (9 PTS) Assist: Green (3 AST)
This is my favorite play of the night.
Right before this play starts, Westbrook hoists an ugly 3 to try to go two-for-one at the end of the half. Two quibbles with the official NBA play-by-play. (1) It's certainly not an alley-oop; and (2) this is a classic "hockey assist" for Curry. The whole play begins with Andre coming up to set a pick for Curry. He's a bit early, so Curry waves him away, then gets a screen from Andre, and then in promptly blitzed by two Thunder defenders. Then...
Steven Adams and Westbrook double team Curry. This leaves Kevin Durant guarding both Andre and Draymond right at the free throw line. Curry could have passed to Andre directly, which probably would have led to Andre getting covered, and Draymond shooting an open three. However, I believe either through game plan or Curry intuition, Steph saw the passing to Draymond would likely get Andre a layup.
Curry lasers a pass to Dray a beat after the double team commits to Curry. Speed is of the essence here, as the 4-on-3 will only last a couple of seconds. Draymond throws a stupendous bounce pass to Andre, avoiding the kick save attempt by Durant and the reach of the closing Steven Adams (see, that Curry pass had to be fast, or Adams would have been there).
I want to contrast this play with the one that directly follows it. We saw crisp execution by the Warriors against a double-team of Curry. The next play, Kevin Durant is blitzed by the Warriors. See what happens next.
Durant is blitzed, but he loops a slow lob out of the double team. When the pass is thrown, Klay is covering two men, Westbrook and Adams. By the time Steven Adams (the release man) lands with the ball, Harrison Barnes has almost come back to cover Adams, and Klay can contest Westbrook's shot. Sweet defense.
The Warriors need Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli to step up this series, especially Andre on-ball with Durant and Festus rebounding and containing the pick and roll (which Andrew Bogut has had trouble all postseason doing).
The secret subtext of the Warriors-Thunder series is how the Warriors cover Durant. KD can get shots off against any defense. That's the advantage of 6' 10" sharpshooter with excellent off the dribble shots. The Warriors don't double team Durant all the time. Rather they save it for key runs and the ends of games. Too soon, and OKC will get practice playing against the double. This is what happened with the Clippers' blitzing defense in 2014. Even with Mark Jackson and his purged coaching crew, the Warriors and Curry figured how to counter the blitz because it came every single play. I'm not sure how much other teams double-team Durant, but the schemes don't always give KD easy decisive release men, and he can be made to turn the ball over.