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Analysis: Durant shines and Jones surprises in Warriors’ road win over Thunder

Durant scored 34 points in the 111-107 victory, while second-year big man Damian Jones played well in his first meaningful minutes of the season.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors, locked into the second seed in the Western Conference, traveled to Oklahoma City to play a Thunder team intensely fighting for playoff position on Tuesday night.

The Warriors were once again short-handed, as they would be missing not only Stephen Curry but also Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Kevon Looney, Patrick McCaw and Omri Casspi.

But even with that depleted roster and facing a team that was very clearly playing for something, the Warriors earned the 111-107 victory on Thursday night for their 28th road win of the season.

A career night for Damian Jones

Without a doubt, the biggest story from this game for the Warriors was the play of Damian Jones. By virtue of all the Warriors’ injuries and absences, the second-year big man was pressed into substantial minutes (14 of them, including quite a few in crucial moments of the game) against the Thunder and he responded well to the uptick in playing time.

Jones scored eight points on Tuesday night, a career-high for him. Jones’ scoring including four points courtesy of lob passes from Draymond Green.

Jones also scored in crunch time of Tuesday night’s game with this nice finish at the rim off of the Klay Thompson pass.

That’s not an easy shot to make, given the collapsing Thunder defense led by the imposing Steven Adams, and yet Jones was able to convert and push the Warriors lead to six with about two minutes left to go.

Jones also finished the game with 2 rebounds and 1 block, capping easily his best game of the season and perhaps of his career.

If Jones is able to become a consistent member of the Warriors’ big-man rotation in the coming seasons, it would certainly be a big help and allow them to not commit salary to so many veteran centers. In the final games of the 2017-18 season, it will be interesting to see how much playing time Jones gets, when he plays, and how he does when he’s on the court.

Carmelo’s destruction at the hands of KD

Kevin Durant led the way for the Warriors by scoring 34 points against his former team. 24 of Durant’s points came in the first half, including seven in the second quarter at the expense of Carmelo Anthony. On three-straight offensive possessions at the end of the second quarter, Durant got Anthony switched onto him and pounced, scoring two buckets while getting fouled attempting a three-pointer as well.

Throughout the game, the Warriors made a point of attacking Anthony — the Thunder’s weakest defender — but Durant made it into an art form in the second quarter, dismantling him and making Anthony look very foolish.

As our own Brady Klopfer noted, that the Warriors (or any team) can do this to Anthony does not bode well for the Thunder’s postseason chances.

The other way in which Durant scored his points, besides being lucky enough to occasionally be guarded by the porous Anthony, was by getting to the free-throw line. Durant attempted 14 free throws against the Thunder, making all of them.

It wasn’t a particularly great game for Durant from the field as he shot 36% against the Thunder on Thursday night. But between his ability to get fouled and make his free throws as well as stepping up in the first half when they needed his offense to keep things close, Durant gave the Warriors just about everything they could have asked for in Tuesday night’s game.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City Thunder
Though he did not shoot an especially high percentage, Durant constantly attacked on offense against the Thunder, playing a big role in the Warriors’ victory.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors’ defense impresses against the Thunder

The Warriors’ first quarter defense was not stellar against the Thunder, as they allowed them to shoot nearly 48% from the field and lead by as many as eight points. The second quarter, however, was a much different story as the Warriors were able to take the lead and (save for a brief few seconds in the third quarter) never give it back.

In that second quarter, the Thunder went 6-for-26 from the field and had 4 of their 16 turnovers in Tuesday night’s game. In that second quarter, Russell Westbrook was 3-for-8 from the field while Paul George was 1-for-6.

Though the Warriors couldn’t totally stop Westbrook on Tuesday night — he scored a game-high 44 points — they forced him into taking tough shots and limited him to just six assists, preventing his teammates from scoring and thus denying Westbrook the assist.

The Warriors held the Thunder to 13 assists, eight below their season average. After that first quarter, the Warriors did a better job of forcing the Thunder into taking bad shots and forcing their less-effective offensive players to have to make plays.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Oklahoma City Thunder
Though Westbrook had 44 points against the Warriors, it took him 26 shots to do so as his teammates underwhelmed in the Thunder’s loss to the Warriors
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Though Westbrook’s gaudy point total will grab some of the attention, the ability of the Warriors to contain the rest of the Thunder’s players shows how they can compensate for Curry’s absence by forcing other team’s lesser offensive players to beat them.

Quinn continues to Cook

Quinn Cook turned in yet another impressive performance on Tuesday night, scoring 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting while also handing out six assists in the intense, playoff-like atmosphere of Oklahoma City.

Head coach Steve Kerr addressed Cook and the poise he displayed during his postgame interview:

While Cook has played well in this stretch with Curry out, this game was perhaps the most intense one he’s played in, given the implications for the Thunder’s postseason as well as the animosity directed at Durant.

If Cook can make plays in the playoffs like he did against the Thunder on Tuesday night, he will be an extremely important piece of the rotation and can allow Kerr to present teams with a different look at point guard, particularly when Cook returns to the bench with Curry’s return.

I’m not alone in thinking this:

Cook has been something of a revelation in these closing weeks of the regular season and he looks like he’ll be able to keep this up going into the postseason.

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