The Warriors get a fast start (finally)
The Dubs led 59-53 at the half, a noteworthy moment considering Golden State’s blundering starts against OKC in their previous two matchups earlier this season. The Thunder led 70-37 after two quarters in their first meeting, and 60-43 by halftime in their second game.
This depleted version of Golden State has rarely led at halftime this season, forcing them to mount furious late game comebacks to make games interesting (like the last Utah game), or just getting blown out (like the last Dallas game).
Last night, the Warriors’ hot start was fueled by maximizing their possessions early. They only turned the ball over five times by intermission, while forcing 11 Thunder turnovers. Those extra possessions helped the Dubs shoot 51% and get them going early.
A huge part of that strong early effort was the tag team of Glenn Robinson III and Ky Bowman. GRIII’s 6-of-9 shooting from the field in the first half provided a steady stream of scoring and kept the Warriors offense flowing.
Meanwhile Bowman had 10 points in the second quarter, part of a 16-point first half for the two-way contract player. He attacked Dennis Schroeder and Chris Paul with impunity.
On the other end, his defensive presence spearheaded that surprising, ball-hawking Golden State effort. Bowman morphed into a defensive disruptor, blowing up Thunder plays from everywhere on the court.
The young Warriors were playing with energy and trust early on, and it appeared they would cruise to a win when they took a 97-87 lead with 3:18 to go in the fourth quarter.
Golden State freezes in the fourth
Oklahoma City ratcheted up their defensive intensity in the final period, holding the Warriors to 14 points. The Thunder used their length and athleticism to agitate the Warriors into confusion. The passing lanes that were open in the first three quarters shrank under the OKC pressure.
When the Dubs tried to use backdoor escape cuts to beat their perimeter defender, they ran into the formidable paws of giant rim protector Steven Adams. Eric Paschall valiantly attempted to bully his way through the jaws of the Thunder defense, but they (particularly OKC forward Danilo Gallinari) had figured out Paschall’s limited moveset by the fourth quarter and lured him into questionable charging fouls.
Steve Kerr on Eric Paschall (who had three offensive fouls) needing to adjust night to night to different NBA personnel: “Gallinari is a tough guy to face because of his ability to flop and draw fouls and flail around and still fool the refs after all these years.” pic.twitter.com/n4N9tYOchX— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 26, 2019
Offensive foul on Paschall.— Stephen Dolan (@SteveThunderfan) November 26, 2019
Bob Fitzgerald: Oh no, an offensive while WHEN HE'S SHOOTING? (You know, like most charges)
Kelenna Azubuike's: I mean that's what he does! He goes through people's chests! (Basically the definition of a charge) pic.twitter.com/ZJA0UoVCeB
I guess only superstars get that call, eh? Fair enough.
The Warriors scoreless final 3:18 of the game was punctuated by this hilariously horrendous final possession.
Warriors really led the entire game just to blow it in the last few minutes?????— Kaei (@KMe_ki) November 26, 2019
This is why the absences of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and D’Angelo Russell loom so large. Those guys are proven closers who understand the floor geometry and intelligent actions required to get a good shot for either themselves or their teammates. There’s a solid chance NONE of the guys on the court during this pivotal possession would be playing during crunch time if Golden State were fully weaponized and healthy.
That’s also why this was such a wonderful teaching moment for the young Warriors; they saw up close and personal what “winning time” looks like. The next time it rolls around, they will be better prepared to deal with the pressure of clutch basketball.
Eric Paschall on the important lesson the Warriors learned tonight: pic.twitter.com/QAHeW9m0la— Connor Letourneau (@Con_Chron) November 26, 2019
“It hurts, losing.”— 95.7 The Game (@957thegame) November 26, 2019
“But we’re young and we’re getting better each day.”
Ky Bowman following tough loss to the Thunder. pic.twitter.com/Otb3mX01WJ
Chris Paul: Basketball schoolmaster
The Chase Center fans heartily booed future hall-of-famer Chris Paul during the Thunder introductions, and with good reason. CP3 has been the brains and attitude behind two Western Conference powerhouses that have warred against the Golden State dynasty. He was a direct rival of Curry’s during the Warriors’ transformation from bottom-feeder to empire.
He was the leader of the “Lob City” Los Angeles Clippers, the last Western Conference team to eliminate the Warriors from the playoffs. His brilliant floor generalship, handsy defense, and psychological warfare (flopping) hardened that young Golden State team.
When the Warriors avenged themselves and obliterated Lob City forever Paul survived the wreckage and joined James Harden in Houston. Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that CP3’s hamstring injury in the 2018 Western Conference Finals gave the Rockets the ultimate excuse to believe they were better than Golden State?
Really sucks. Feel for CP3. No matter what, we’ll always say “what if” about the 2018 WCF’s. https://t.co/OR3TcLbkuw— Bonta Hill (@BontaHill) May 28, 2018
The Splash Bros would later dispatch CP3’s Rockets out of the playoffs again in 2019, rendering that discussion moot. Paul was unceremoniously dumped to non-contender Oklahoma City last offseason, and it’s possible he finishes out the final years of his amazing career toiling in obscurity.
Watching the 34-year old, six-foot guard sweat and battle against the Warriors’ G-League team last night was surreal sight, considering his history with the Golden Empire. He worked the refs all night, yapping for calls. He calmly orchestrated OKC’s offense into good possessions against the Warriors’ defensive effort. He hit difficult jumpers to keep the game close and steal momentum.
The Warriors six-point halftime lead could have been bigger if not for two tough CP3 three-pointers to close the half, the first a contested dagger in semi-transition, and the latter a half-court heave that swished through at the horn. The Dubs seemed to relax when they saw him calmly dribbling the ball to the half court line, not perceiving that he’s a trick-shot artist and supreme competitor.
How many times has Paul seen Curry drill that same buzzer-beating shot? CP3 was DEFINITELY taking that half-court heave with the injured Curry getting a front row seat on the bench.
Paul is a master of taking care of the little things in a basketball game. He’s very aware that every possession matters, and fights for every inch, something the Splash Bros learned early on from him. If you make a mistake against Paul, he will capitalize and hurt you.
That was evidenced by the final dagger he stuck into the heart of a rowdy Chase Center. His subtle pauses and fakes lull the exhausted Warriors defense into a brain-freeze and he gets an open mid-range jumpshot in his sweet spot.
His competitiveness is legendary, his skills are devastating when he’s comfortable, and his 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists served as a painfully necessary teaching tool for a young team figuring out the NBA.
Well played, Mr. Paul.