The Golden State Warriors felt there was something special about their win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. While they might have been beaten before (only four times), facing a team that can run and gun with them right up to the end mean that this might be the matchup they need to focus on in the playoffs.
The Warriors won 116-108, forcing the Thunder into some difficult shots after the game was tied at 104-104, with Klay Thompson’s three pointer (1:39 left in the game) on a nice swing play which works so many times for them finished the game, giving the Warriors a six point lead. They already led by 19 points in the second quarter and opened an 18-point lead in the third, but Kevin Durant, with 40 points on 12-of-25 from the field, kept coming back.
When you try to see what was the problem for the Thunder in this game, it comes in two aspects: Their defense unable to handle the switching and allowing a lot of easy points (58 points in the paint for the Warriors, shooting 49.5% from the field) and like a lot of other teams, facing the bench unit the Warriors have created all sorts of problems.
Playoffs are different. Durant played 40 minutes in this game, and might spend more time on the floor in the postseason. But when compared to how the Cavaliers and the Spurs folded against the Warriors in their most recent matchups, it seems the Thunder, with Westbrook and Durant fearing no one and having no problem matching Stephen Curry (26 points) or anyone else shot for shot at the highest pace available. It’s just not as pretty. Durant and Westbrook (25 points on 8-of-22 from the field with 12 assists) simply run up at a defender, pull up or blow by them. The Warriors do some beautiful things on offense, although Curry does score a lot on isos which can go unnoticed due to the beauty of the overall thing.
Westbrook continues to be a mess in the clutch with some frustrating, thoughtless misses. Durant had them as well. The Thunder have to make people think about double teaming their best players in crunch time or at least make it less predictable in order to put themselves in a better position to make a dent in the Warriors championship ride, which right now is on record pace, tying the best start in NBA history through 50 games.
The Warriors are special. It doesn’t matter if Curry is an all-time great leading this team or perhaps this is an improved version of the San Antonio Spurs system. Their defense and execution on offense seems to be something teams, even the most talented ones, can’t handle at this point. Maybe it’s a rare combination of talent that blossoms at the perfect time and no one managed to predict. Maybe it’s just a style and system that right now, no one has an answer to.
When thinking about the games the Warriors had with the Cavaliers (the one in Cleveland) and the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder were the ones who put the Warriors in the toughest spot and made the closest game of it. Maybe it’s because they have two players who can’t be locked down completely, or simply by not minding running with the Warriors. Seeing more of this growing rivalry will gives us better answers.