Another game struggling against the Thunder might have pointed to a serious match-up problem, rather than an issue of regular season focus and intensity.
After all, this Thunder team is not so different from the 2016 version that was arguably the toughest opponent the Warriors have faced in this epic run over the last four years.
Using their length to disrupt our motion offense, and with Steven Adams bulldozing his way to offensive rebounds galore, they are uniquely built to exploit the Warriors’ biggest weaknesses - a penchant for sloppy turnovers and a lack of rebounding prowess.
So the big question on everyone’s lips was the one Duby Dub Dubs asked in the preview - ‘Is that flip switched yet?’
Well, last night we got a resounding answer.
Intensity, defensive effort, and offensive execution
After two showings against the Thunder where the Warriors came out with very little intensity, playing hardly any defense and throwing the ball carelessly around, tonight was a very different affair.
The Warriors ended up holding the Thunder to just 80 points on 33% shooting. The Thunder’s big three - Russell Westbrook (15 points on 4-15 shooting), Paul George (5 points on 1-14 shooting), and Carmelo Anthony (14 points on 6-17 shooting) were kept quiet by a playoff-like level of intensity.
Crucially it was a team effort, with no weak links. Bodies were flying around, shots were contested, rotations were made. And while Adams continued to pound the glass, the Warriors battled hard. He ended with just seven rebounds.
The Warriors won the battle of points in the paint (36-28), fastbreak points (13-10), and points off turnovers (25-18) - all signs of a more engaged, active defense leading to offensive opportunities.
Some of the turnover problems were less pronounced too, with good execution leading to a lot of clean looks. Early on the Warriors struggled to convert, with Klay Thompson in particular ice cold, but the carelessness for the most part wasn’t there, though Draymond Green did have a few head-scratchers.
But defensively Thompson was tremendous on the perimeter, and Green was back to his snarling best inside. Here’s an example of Klay’s smothering defense tonight.
Green also had the capper on the evening, finishing with a statement dunk off a fastbreak sparked by his fine defensive work.
Draymond forces the turnover, then throws it down on the other end! pic.twitter.com/6fuRVjPKCR— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) February 25, 2018
Given the effort both put forwards on that end, some offensive miscues can be overlooked.
OKC Kevin Durant vs Golden State Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant had a great night, finishing with 28 points, five rebounds, two assists, and a block and a steal apiece. In particular he came to life in the second quarter, firing up the Warriors and helping them re-take the lead.
But within that came some interesting moments of contrast.
His first two possessions on checking back in during the second quarter were some classic OKC isolations. The first he received the ball matched up with Westbrook and was goaded into an iso-jumper that bricked. He followed that up with another iso-jumper on the wing with the same result.
Hamptons 5 closed the half 22-10— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) February 25, 2018
Durant was a major factor in the run, which started with him finishing a nice dunk on a backdoor cut.
He followed that up with a couple of threes. The first came off some nice off-ball action and the second from a good, hard screen. Following a wrestling match with Anthony that resulted in a double technical, Durant nailed another open three.
Now he was cooking and nailed a nice in-rhythm mid-range pull up jumper.
On top of that he was actively engaged in that defensive effort, using his length to contest shots and fighting hard in a physical game.
Overall it was an interesting mini-window into how Durant’s game has grown since joining the Warriors. It’s not that he couldn’t do these things in OKC, or that the Warriors don’t need some of those isolation buckets when the going gets tough.
It’s more that he’s in a system that elevates his whole game, and allows him to shine for the wonderful all-around basketball player that he is.
The ups and downs of the Cinnamon Brothers
The Warriors won the first quarter for the second straight game. Part of that was the active presence of JaVale McGee to open. From the tip it looked like the Warriors were playing 5-on-5 on offense, as he got free for an alley-oop dunk.
On the defensive end he was engaged, battling with the notoriously tricky Adams, forcing a miss from Anthony, poking the ball away in the post, and intimidating George on the drive. He helped set the tone as the Warriors looked ready to play from the off.
But McGee giveth, and McGee taketh away. In a sign of why it’s difficult to rely on him during the playoffs, the second half opened with the Thunder clearly targeting him in the pick and roll, helping them get back into the game. And while he battled well with Adams in the first half, in the second he resorted to hacking away.
McGee was replaced midway through the third with Zaza Pachulia, who played an all round solid game and demonstrated why Kerr relies on him.
Who knows how this experiment will go, but it lends credence to the idea that McGee starting is a place-holder until Jordan Bell is ready. Bell can bring the same energy and athleticism, but is much more mobile in switches and can play a fuller role on the offensive end.
McGee’s fellow Cinnamon Bro, Nick Young, had a similarly contrasting game. Frankly he was not good to start. He opened by dribbling into a contested, turn-around, long range two which predictably clanged off the rim. Matched up on Westbrook on the other end, he couldn’t keep up.
It looked like another one of those games where you’d end up shaking your head thinking he just doesn’t play winning basketball.
And then... wow, what a second half. The Swaggy one was raining hot fire, at one point reeling off 11 straight points as part of the Warriors’ massive run. Much of it was off the catch and shoot opportunities created by the offense, though by the fourth quarter he was so hot it didn’t really matter.
This was definitely one of Young’s best games, and crucially he delivered during a playoff-intensity match-up against one of the premier contenders in the West.
And, of course, his podium game is no less Swaggy.
Swaggy breaking down his outfit to reporters pic.twitter.com/MOWYJ2A0MA— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) February 25, 2018
Steph Curry remains in MVP form
Who creates all this afore-mentioned offensive flow and movement? Steph Curry, of course. He was brilliant again, albeit playing more of the floor general tonight than the sky-um, pleasurer we have seen on multiple occasions this year, most recently against the Clippers a couple of nights ago.
He finished with 21 points, including nailing five three pointers, nine assists, six rebounds, and three steals.
This gorgeous behind-the-back pass was the pick of the bunch.
Steph goes behind the back to Zaza for a dunk pic.twitter.com/tug9NtPypY— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) February 25, 2018
I predicted before the season started that he would win his third MVP. Presently some guy in Houston may be the front-runner, but Curry is every bit as good as he has been in previous years and should there be a slight stumble he’s right there.
Thinking back to the epic 2016 Western Conference Finals, there were several keys to the Warriors turning the tide. Of course everyone rightly remembers Klay Thompson’s heroics in Game 6.
But beyond that the Warriors’ key to victory was to goad Westbrook into ill-advised shots, and test the Thunder’s poise. Tonight, the Warriors showed again that poise counts.
The game turned after an altercation between Anthony and Green. It was a close affair with four minutes to go in the third quarter when Green got what looked like a clean block on Anthony, but followed through and hit him in the head. In an already testy atmosphere which had seen several technicals, Anthony took exception.
The Warriors followed that with an absolute monster run that buried the Thunder. Quite simply the Thunder lost their poise and the Warriors took full advantage.
The cool headed veterans, led by Andre Iguodala (who was magnificent throughout with 7 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, a three pointer, and a team-high +29), ensured the fourth quarter remained out of touch, while the afore-mentioned Nick Young rained down lava from the heavens. By the end of the game it was a total blowout.
All in all, it was a tremendously satisfying evening that hinted at a Warriors team ready to click it up a notch as the playoffs approach.
Who was your Warrior Wonder in the rout of the Thunder?
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