Matt Moore CBS Sports Writer
What a Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. Here are some things to know from the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 108-102 victory over the Golden State Warriors Monday night:
1. The Thunder just don’t quit. Once again, the Thunder cruise into the building of a historically great team, go down double digits, and then come back to win the game. They did this vs. the Spurs in Games 2 and 5 in the semifinals, and then again in Game 1 vs. the Warriors in the WCF.
The Warriors led by 14 points at one point, which is typically an absolute tombstone for the opponent. But OKC just kept responding with runs, and stuck to its game plan. The Thunder kept improving and shaving off slices of the Warriors’ efficiency and kept pounding them with their size.
Credit the Thunder, because when other teams have gotten rattled and fallen apart, the Thunder just keep coming at you.
2. The Warriors’ splash well just dried up. Golden State and the mighty Splash Brothers shot 26 percent in the fourth quarter, with an 84.1 offensive rating in the second half. For perspective, it was 112.5 in the regular season. Stephen Curry went 1-for-6 in the 4th, while had as many shots as Draymond Green in the final frame.
The Thunder had 10 points off seven Warriors turnovers in the second half, compared to just one turnover for two points for Golden State.
The Warriors were sloppy and out of rhythm, and Steph Curry said after the game they were just careless with the basketball. Yet they still almost won. This would be comforting, were it not for how many things went wrong for the Thunder who still won.
3. Durant struggled right up until he didn’t. Oklahoma City just won a game in which Kevin Durant went 10-of-30 from the field. That’s a monster event. But Durant, after going 2-of-11 and missing nine straight shots, knocked down the pull-up jumper to clinch the game late in the 4th.
When Russell Westbrook shot 30 times, he was reviled, but Durant hit the last one that mattered and his teammates stepped up, so the narrative is different. That’s how close it can be. One shot, one possession … or one travel.
4. The travel call is going be much ballyhooed. Russell Westbrook appeared to travel on a key play late before calling timeout, which is only going to prompt more hand-wringing about the officiating. The Thunder once again come up on the beneficial end of a controversial playoff call, and you wonder how long it will be before one turns on them.
For more on that play, read Zach Harper’s breakdown here.
5. Respect Kanter. Enes Kanter got destroyed in the first half. In just five minutes, the Warriors shot 7 of 10 and scored 18 points, forcing Billy Donovan to pull him off the floor. But in the second half, he played much better, settled down, did his job, and the Warriors couldn’t get what they wanted. They shot 9 of 24 in the second half with Kanter on the court and the Thunder outscored them by nine points.
Kanter is still a weakpoint and the Warriors will attack him even more going forward. But every minute he’s on the floor that he’s in the positive, the Thunder are going to be gaining ground.
6. Russell Westbrook was a monster. His line looks bad. The Thunder star shot 7-of-21 from the field, just 33 percent. But a. he hit 2-of-4 from 3-point range and when he does, the whole feel of the game shifts. More importantly, he finished with 12 assists to just three turnovers. When Westbrook has more than ten assists, the Thunder are 15-2 all-time in the playoffs.
This was Westbrook’s seventh game this postseason with 10 or more assists. The Thunder are undefeated in such games.
He played under control, he committed himself defensively, he remained aggressive, and he got his teammates involved. Russell Westbrook had a bad shooting night and ruined the Warriors’ world anyway.
7. Balance issues. Maybe Steph Curry is hurt. Maybe he’s rusty. Maybe Draymond Green just made the wrong reads. But Green finished with 20 shots to Curry’s 22 and as many shots in the second half as Curry (11). Green actually shot better than Curry overall, but no other Warrior finished with more than eight shots.
For all the talk of the Warriors’ magical ball movement and thrilling balance, vs. the Thunder on Monday, the Warriors were predictable and unbalanced. Curry played forty minutes, and finished with only two more shots than Green. The Thunder will take that every single time.
8. Scouting helps. The Thunder have scouted the Warriors extremely well going in. Five of Curry’s seven turnovers were passes that the Thunder simply anticipated. They knew when he was going to throw the hook pass out of the side pick and roll. They knew he was going to try the jump pass off the high pick and roll. The knew he was going to try the slip pass to the cutter under the basket.
The Thunder knew a lot of the Warrior’s tricks, and their length and athleticism helped them to jumble what has been so seamless all year long.
9. It’s one game. The Thunder lost Game 1 vs. the Spurs by 30 and came back to win the series. Their winning this game means little. Teams that have gone on the road and won Game 1 only went on to win the series 53 percent of the time, according to WhoWins.com. However, in the Conference Finals, they’ve won 71 percent of the time. None of those teams, however, faced the Warriors.
Golden State will be sharper, quicker, will execute better and probably make more shots in Game 2.
10. The Death Lineup draws. The Warriors have a lineup, their smallball special, using Draymond Green at center along with Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Andre Iguodala. It’s their not-so-secret weapons and it usually destroys teams. It was a plus-8 in the first-half. In the second half, though, it was a plus/minus of zero. In a half they lost by double-digits, that should be a positive sign, but take it in context.
The Thunder had to survive with Kanter on the floor, and he wound up a positive.
The Warriors need to dominate with that lineup on the floor, and in the second half, it played to a zero.
The Thunder won their key battles, the Warriors didn’t, and now the Thunder have homecourt advantage in the Western Conference finals.