So, exactly who the hell are the Oklahoma City Thunder?
What I do know, is that these guys are going to be a very tough out in the playoffs.
Their second straight win over the champs was an emphatic 125-105 drubbing in Oakland. Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook finished with 34 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists. His wing-man Paul George was the ultimate two-way force as well. “PG13” might as well have been called “Rated R”, the way he tore apart the Dubs on his way to 38 points. The Thunder were able to do the damage without fading Olympian Carmelo Anthony for the majority of the game, as he turned his ankle early and did not return.
Let’s get to my four gold-blooded observations on this beatdown:
Ghastly Golden State defense
At what point does lackadaisical defense become a habit and not an outlier? I had just finished checking out an insightful article from The Athletic on that very topic mere minutes before OKC dropped 70 points in the first half in Oakland.
The Warriors kept pressuring the hyper-athletic Westbrook twenty-five feet from the basket, with either soft or non-existent help waiting behind. I don’t know why. Perhaps they were hoping Westbrook would tire out early from screaming after wide open dunks. This play pretty much summed up the effort (or lack thereof) early on:
Russ erupts— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 7, 2018
21 points in Q1.
Thunder leads Warriors 42-30 pic.twitter.com/1L8tgncgt6
Thunder pop the struggling Warriors defense for 42 first quarter points. Russell Westbrook scores half of them: 21 on 9/11 FG.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 7, 2018
When the Thunder did happen to miss, they routinely out-hustled the Warriors for rebounds and loose balls, which led to easy buckets. The Thunder kept securing the boards in high leverage moments, continually taking the air out of the building and killing any Warrior momentum.
OKC’s defense is for real
That’s what I felt midway through the second quarter as the Warriors struggled to find creases between the long, active limbs of the Thunder defenders. Remember: Oklahoma City nearly toppled the Warriors two years ago in the playoffs behind that type of smothering defense. The Thunder ran shooters off of the line, and recovered to cut off drives with a Terminator-like efficiency. Example: the Dubs didn’t even get to ATTEMPT a three point shot for the first eight minutes of the second quarter. The Warriors finished 8-for-28 from the arc, a paltry 28%.
George slithered around picks, kept an eye on shooters sneaking around the perimeter, and used the length of his 6’9 frame to fluster the Warriors. He finished the game with six of the Thunder’s fourteen steals; it seemed like he had a radar for the perfect timing to jump into the passing lanes. Also the Warriors threw some truly horrible passes his way.
In two meetings against the Thunder this season, the “Splash Bros” Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have combined for 10-for-26 on three point shots. Clearly, Thunder coach Billy Donovan has emphasized the importance of forcing the Warriors into two point attempts. It’s worked so far.
Kevin Durant scored 33 points, with many of those buckets accrued in the face of excellent defense. Hats off to Oklahoma City for their effort and intelligence on the defensive end last night; they have forced the Dubs back to the drawing board.
There is a blueprint out there on the Warriors. Several teams have executed it really well: overplay on perimeter, double Curry, get low on KD and leave open non-shooters— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) February 7, 2018
Golden State’s big men get exposed
I love Kevon Looney and Zaza Pachulia’s heart, selflessness, and toughness. I do not love when they are the recipient of an emergency outlet pass from a trapped Curry or Durant and have to make a play with the basketball. They are clearly uncomfortable, and more often than not barrel out-of-control toward the paint for a missed layup or turnover.
Passing the ball to Zaza is like playing penny slots— running up that shrill (@theshrillest) February 7, 2018
The Thunder clearly understood this weakness, and kept forcing the ball out of Warriors All-Stars hands to initiate “Dubs Big Man” adventures. A guy like Jordan Bell could be useful in situations like that.
Also our bigs can’t keep getting dunked on like this.
Mo’ Technicals, Mo’ Problems
First Draymond Green got a technical foul at the end of the first half. He had reason to be upset: he caught an elbow to the mouth on a drive and his mouth was leaking blood. In true Green fashion, he gave the ref all she could handle before she nailed him with a tech.
Green picked up a foul late in the fourth quarter of the blowout, and responded by immediately tossing the ball at the referee’s head. It was a soft toss, but enough to make the ref duck and slap Green with a second tech, sending him to the showers early.
Draymond Green gets his second technical. He's gone.— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) February 7, 2018
Russell Westbrook was up off the bench clapping and waving Green off the floor.
That's 13 Ts for Draymond Green this season, three away from that 1-game suspension.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 7, 2018
Andre Iguodala and David West were assessed technical fouls as well. Maybe the Warriors are being too hard on the refs?
That was a hard foul the Warriors court committed on Russell Westbrook there. pic.twitter.com/npt3oNZMBY— Andrew Jerell Jones (@sluggahjells) February 7, 2018
Then again, after the above video of a ref calling a foul on the Warriors because Westbrook slipped and face-planted? That’s enough to get any member of Dub Nation’s blood boiling.
Tough home loss to an annoying rival. There will be payback looming on the horizon for them, count on it.
For now, it doesn’t get any easier, as the Warriors welcome the mighty Dallas Mavericks and the very rich Harrison Barnes on Thursday. At least we’ll get to see an old friend in HB to cheer us up!