Things became lucid when Stephen Curry missed his target and hurled the ball out of bounds with two minutes remaining.
The Warriors had Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in the bag before a 13-point lead at halftime dwindled to three points, eventually flipping into a 108-102 loss to the Thunder.
As their offense surged behind 27 points and 12 assists from Russell Westbrook, and 26 from Kevin Durant, the Thunder put enough pressure on Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Curry to inhibit their scoring potential to a not-so-subtle low in the second half.
The Warriors went 2-of-12 from the field during the first six minutes of the fourth quarter and struggled to control the tempo. It seemed as though the Warriors might take a loss, even though they controlled the game the majority of the night and looked every bit the championship team they have been.
Even after pulling within three points, Harrison Barnes grabbed a defensive board, which Curry would later take possession of before hurling it out of bounds on an errant pass.
Curry later hit from short range, and brought the Warriors within one possession of the lead, but Golden State failed to capitalize on any of the ensuing three possessions.
“Sometimes those shots go in and it’s a good feeling, you keep the crowd into it. But tonight that didn’t happen.When two or three possessions end up that way, you have to change it up a little bit. And grind out, on the offensive end, better shots. We weren’t able to do it.”
Oklahoma City’s stars played big minutes Monday night, with Durant eclipsing 30 minutes before the end of the third frame, and Westbrook running right with him despite several meetings with the hard maple flooring that was grown in the upper midwest United States.
The particular wood used in the construction of NBA courts is selected for its granular density, and Westbrook gave it the full test.
The Thunder point guard hit the deck halfway through the second quarter, and was slow to regain his footing while the Warriors paraded towards their half of the floor, and Westbrook remained on his backside until the Thunder gained possession.
“This is the time of the year where you’re going to get hit, but you have to find a way to get back up. I think my teammates do a great job of constantly keep trusting in me and trusting in my abilities to help us win games. I came back in the second half and tried to find ways to impact the game and it helped us out.”
Westbrook’s first half scoring totals were much like his demeanor on that play — weak, and with no sign of perseverance. His second, half, though, was a primary reason the Thunders regained life during the third quarter, which was pivotal and helped breathe life back into a game that seemed over.
“I thought we did a pretty good job, besides keeping them off the free throw line, which is something you don’t want them to get easy points and get into a flow and rhythm, but they’re going to take a lot of shots. Most of their offense goes through them. They might end up having 20-plus, but it’s the way that they get it. To make them work. For the most part, from the field, we did that. We just gave up 16 points from the free throw line, and that in turn, slowed the pace down. We have to do a better job with that.”
Westbrook scored 18 of Oklahoma City’s 38 points in the third, as the Thunder surged and eventually captured a slim lead in the fourth. Halfway through the period, the Thunder’s defense was clicking on all cylinders, and shut down some of Golden State’s best lineups.
And the Warriors had no answer. Especially late, when they tend to light the world on fire. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said:
“Lot of quick shots, way too many quick shots. Five minutes left in the game and we’re down four or whatever, and we were acting like we had 20 seconds left. Five minutes is an eternity. We know we have to play. We have to pass ad move and create rhythm for ourselves with screening and our cutting. And I jut felt like we took way too any quick ones that took us out of rhythm.”
Compounding Golden State’s woes were some soon-to-be controversial calls made by the game’s officiating crew, likely to be highlighted in the two-minute report.
With 30 seconds remaining, Westbrook obviously traveled, though he called timeout right around the fifth movement of his non-pivot foot. Head coach Steve Kerr, assistant Luke Walton and Stephen Curry rushed to argue, but their voices fell onto deaf ears.
A few other interesting calls were made around the rim, and it seemed that the Warriors never saw the right side of the free throw stripe.
Curry finished with 26 points on 9-of-22 shooting, with 10 boards and seven assists. Thompson scored 25 points, adding nine rebounds, and Green finished with 23 points on 9-of-20 shooting.
The Warriors failed to dominate in categories they generally lead by a game’s final whistle. They trailed eight rebounds, 10 percentage points from three, a stagnant bench only contributing 16 points, and 15 fewer free throw attempts.
And somehow, Golden State only lost by six. There’s something to take away from that, despite the Dubs being down 1-0 in a best-of-seven.
Golden State hasn’t lost consecutive games this season, and the Warriors and Thunder square off for Game 2 Wednesday night at Oracle Arena.