The Oklahoma City Thunder did something to the Golden State Warriors Saturday night that hasn’t been accomplished in a long time: They looked, for a split second, like the Warriors’ equal.
It started from the tip, when the Thunder came out and gave the Warriors the best punch in the mouth they’ve received since Chris Paul‘s out-of-body experience back in November. The Thunder went on a 9-0 run in 90 seconds, and Golden State looked taken aback by the otherworldly athleticism of the Oklahoma City stars.
Then the Warriors started clicking, Oracle started roaring, and the idea of an upset dissipated as soon as it began.
The Warriors made up the deficit with three minutes to go in the quarter. By halftime they led by 14, and had 73 points, the ninth time they’ve eclipsed 70 in a first half this season.
Yet, Oklahoma City hung around. Durant started scoring at will, and a forgone conclusion all of the sudden looked like a toss-up when an Enes Kanter jumper tied the game at 104 with 3:35 left in the game.
The Thunder’s efforts proved only to delay the inevitable. The Warriors finished the game on a 12-4 run and have their fun, as Golden State completed the 116-108 victory against what possibly the strongest challenger they have yet faced.
Were the Warriors ever worried? Hardly. In fact, during a huddle recorded by ESPN, Steve Kerr seemed to relish his team’s opportunity:
“About time we got a close game to play. … This is fun.”
Kerr elaborated on the importance of the challenge post-game:
“I thought it was great for our team to go through a game like that too. It’s been a while since we’ve had to get stops and be solid down the stretch.”
Steph scored six of the teams final nine points and made game’s deciding play when he saved a lose ball from going out of bounds by throwing it over his head to a streaking Iguodala, who slammed home the exclamation point on the Golden State Warriors’ latest statement.
Curry started off slow, but finished with 27 points and 10 assists and one dab, after making a seemingly impossible one handed pass across the court to Klay Thompson, who nailed the three to give the Warriors a six point lead with 1:39 remaining.
It wasn’t their best effort, but Curry said he’d gladly take the result against one of the league’s best teams:
“A+ in the first half but got a little stagnant in the second. We battled and competed and did whatever it took to get the win so that’s all that counts at the end, but we can play better.”
Perhaps most shocking was Curry going 1-of-9 from deep. The reigning MVP scored when it counted, however, completing a handful of tough finishes around the rim to ice the game. That fact is much more important to Kerr:
“On a night that just wasn’t his night, I thought Steph was just brilliant down the stretch.
Draymond Green scored just 9 points but was the Warriors most important player down the stretch, gobbling up difficult rebounds over much larger players with the game still in limbo, and making a sublime no look pass in the lane to a slashing Curry to keep a six-point lead with just under a minute remaining.
In the end, it was just another game where this once in a generation team couldn’t be matched, no matter how big the swings from their opponent, including a 40-point night for Kevin Durant, a 27-point and 12-assist performance from Russell Westbrook, and a huge fourth quarter from Kanter.
Except it wasn’t just another game. The Thunder came in tied with the Warriors as the hottest team since December. They were 9-1 in their last ten and riding a five-game winning streak.
They also entered Saturday’s contest with a point to prove. To prove to everyone that they are more than just sort of a contender, but a legitimate threat to the two juggernauts atop the Western Conference.
That’s something they will still have to prove, just like the Spurs and the Cavs and the Clippers will. The Warriors have bested them all, and had a good time doing it.
While the outcome is what we’ve come to expect with these Warriors, it was more than just a showcase for the stars.
Forced to play heavy minutes with Festus Ezeli out and Andrew Bogut in foul trouble, Mo Speights had his best game of the season, finishing with 15 points and leading all players with a plus-20. He was supposed to be a gift for the Thunder, instead he turned the game in the second quarter, at one point earning the loudest ovation of the first half, hitting a fade away three-pointer with the shot clock buzzer sounding midway through the second quarter.
Shaun Livingston also had a spectacular game, keeping the Warriors struggling offense afloat during the first half of the fourth quarter, with eight points.
The win is the Warriors’ ninth in a row extends the Warriors streak of 41 consecutive home victories. The 46-4 start is tied for the best ever through a team’s first 50 games, with the 1966-67 Sixers also accomplishing the feat.
Speaking of feats, Curry’s hometown Carolina Panthers are trying to accomplish one of their own Sunday afternoon, when they look to earn their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history. You best believe the Warrior star thinks Cam and Co. have more than a decent shot:
“It’s gonna be a blowout and you know it (pointing to ESPN’s Rick Reilly). 24-10.”
When asked why he changed the 24-17 prediction he made last week, Curry just smiled:
“I’m more confident than I was last week.”