Thunder Close Strong To Stun Warriors
By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
It has taken the Oklahoma City Thunder two weeks to accomplish what it took the entire rest of the NBA an entire season to do.
Beat the Spurs and Warriors on their home floors.
Those two teams lost a combined three home games in the regular season, the Thunder won two games in San Antonio in the Western Conference Semi-Finals (where the Spurs had lost just once previously) and now with last night’s stunning 108-102 come-from-behind win OKC has knocked off Golden State in Oakland (where the Warriors had lost just twice).
The significance isn’t lost on Thunder bossman Billy Donovan.
"You have to have a mindset coming into these kinds of venues. Our guys, I think they understand what they're walking into," Donovan said. "You don't just walk in here say, `Oh, everything's going to be OK.' You have to have a mindset to understand. The first thing is to embrace the fact it's going to be hard."
And it was hard for the Thunder in the first half when it seemed like everything that could go wrong did.
They had six turnovers in just the first quarter and 10 by halftime. The Warriors shot 56.5 percent in the second quarter overall and were 5-for-6 on threes. Every time the Thunder got close the Warriors went on a run, usually fueled by Steph Curry or Klay Thompson or both dropping rainbow bombs into the nets from way out beyond the arc. Those two combined to make nine 3-pointers.
“They’ve got incredible shot making ability,” Donovan said of Curry and Thompson. “I thought some of the shots that Klay Thompson made were remarkable. Some of them were closely contested and very well guarded but they still went in.”
It felt worse to Donovan than it actually was. According to NBA.com/stats Thompson was just 5-for-16 (31.3 percent) on contested shots for the entire game. He was 6-for-9 (66.7 percent) on open looks.
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant struggled in the first 24 minutes, especially Westbrook who had just three points on 1-for-8 shooting. Durant had 13 points but he also had four turnovers.
The Thunder, the best rebounding team by far in the NBA, were being outrebounded by the Warriors and OKC couldn’t even hit free throws going a pathetic 4-for-10 at the stripe.
Curry hit a buzzer beater 3-ball at the end of the second quarter to give the Warriors a 13 point cushion and for all the world it looked like a rout was coming in the second half.
Just as they’ve consistently done throughout these playoffs the Thunder turned things around in the second half and especially in the fourth quarter.
You remember the fourth quarter, the Bermuda Triangle of basketball for the Thunder during the regular season but now in the playoffs nothing but smooth sailing for OKC and Titanic sized icebergs for whatever team they’re playing.
The turnaround has been made even more impressive considering who those opponents have been. The Spurs and now the Warriors. The two teams that combined to win more games in the regular season than any pair ever before.
“It’s the time of the year when you’re gonna get hit but you gotta find a way to get back up,” Westbrook said. “My teammates do a great job of constantly trusting in me and trusting my ability to win games and I came back in the second half and tried to find way to impact the game and it helped us out.”
Westbrook took over in the third quarter scoring 19 points and grabbing three steals to personally rally his team. Then in the fourth the Thunder took care of the ball on offense (only two turnovers) and the defense clamped down on the Warriors, denying them open looks and gobbling up most every miss.
“We just stayed with it on the defensive end.” Durant pointed out.
The Warriors scored just 14 points in the fourth quarter on 26.1 percent shooting, they were a combined 1-for-10 on threes.
“I do think we lost our poise a little bit,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted, “and that had a lot to do with the quick shots.”
“We got rushed and tried to go for the homerun plays,” Curry said. “Sometimes it works, but yeah we got out of character a little bit. It’s something we’ll learn from going forward.”
The Warriors are sure to make some adjustments and the Thunder may also. Donovan and his staff poured over the game tapes late last night and that continued this morning as they look for “the truth” as Donovan likes to call it, of what happened and why.
They’re looking for precisely what went so wrong in the first half and so right in the second.
One of those truths Donovan already knows. Durant mentioned it after the game.
“We’re just a resilient group and we keep fighting till the end.”