No Cupcakes (Warriors 111, Thunder 95)

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With Kevin Durant seated on the bench, healthy enough to travel with the team but not quite healthy enough to take the floor, some of the drama surrounding the final regular season matchup between the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder was supposed to dissipate. And indeed, the rabid but jilted OKC fanbase seemed to lack some of the venom that characterized Durant’s return; one sign was even spotted wishing KD a speedy recovery from injury! But those who wanted to lean back and munch on popcorn while the gladiators dueled in the Coliseum got their wish, as the physicality and rancor on the floor far exceeded any dislike funneled in from off the floor. With technical fouls galore and enough chippy moments to bake a batch of cookies, the Warriors triumphed over the Thunder 111-95.

The Dubs were led by splendid shooting performances from the Splash Brothers, who had looked quite mortal with the absence of Durant but seem to be regaining their form night by night. Klay Thompson fired his way to a game-high 34 points on 12-21 shooting from the field; Stephen Curry led the vanguard with 23 points of his own. Both Curry and Thompson hit 7 threes apiece, accounting for all but one of the Warriors’ total threes made, and they repeatedly made short work of the defenders the Thunder threw at them. There is nothing more demoralizing than playing solid defense for 15+ seconds, only to see one of the Splash Bros. run through a vortex of screens and spring free for a three…other than that three going in, of course.

On the other side of the ball, the Warriors appeared to take Russell Westbrook’s scorched earth campaign against the NBA personally, as they limited the triple double machine to a desultory 15 points on 4-16 shooting with 5 turnovers and a horrendous -25 +/- rating. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, even Stephen Curry in spurts took their turns harassing the Thunder talisman, and they limited him to being a volume scorer. Westbrook still got his stats (8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals), but his sloppiness (5 turnovers), excessive fouling (4 personal), and extreme inefficiency from distance (he finished 1-6 from behind the arc) all hurt the Thunder significantly.

The Warriors also got monstrously positive minutes out their bench, particularly JaVale McGee and David West. Against a much larger Thunder roster, helmed by Steven Adams, Taj Gibson, and Enes Kanter, the Warriors held their own on the boards, with JaVale McGee tapping out what felt like every other miss for an offensive board and David West walling off the paint when he was on the floor. Despite playing small ball for much of the game, the Warriors won the rebounding battle 46-40, with McGee contributing 10 points on a variety of alley-oops and flushes, 5 boards, and 4 blocks and West chipping in 9 points and 6 boards.

The sequence of plays that symbolized this game and this matchup came at the very end of the first half, with the Warriors already up 17. After Draymond Green won a jump ball, noted pacifist Stephen Curry wandered in front of Semaj Christon of the Thunder and attempted to take his spot against the circle. Light jockeying for position gave way to full-on shoves, which ignited a massive scrum between the two teams. When the dust settled, four offsetting technical fouls were handed out (one each for Curry, Christon, Draymond Green, and Russell Westbrook) and the jump ball was finally held. Off the tip, Klay Thompson fired a pass to a streaking Stephen Curry, who set up shop with nary a defender in sight, fired home a half-ending triple, and sprinted his way into the locker room while the Warriors fans in attendance cackled.

Some other notes from the game (a segment ripped shamelessly from Robert’s columns)…

  1. The “Player’s Only” broadcasting theme is one of those ideas that seems cool in concept but just doesn’t work in practice. While all (OK, most) of the players have (occasionally) interesting tidbits to share, without a “play-by-play” presence to tie everything together, the presentation really suffers, and the personalities this evening were reduced to repeating clichés, talking over each other, tooting their own/each other’s horns, and looking back fondly on the days when hard fouls and scuffles were commonplace.
  2. Stephen Curry had a first quarter breakaway that he finished with a two-handed slam and a hilarious look in the direction of the Dubs bench. Watch the highlight online if you want a few chuckles.
  3. Draymond Green didn’t hit a single shot in this game and was +17 in his 26 minutes on the floor. I would like to submit a proposal to henceforth call any scoring deficient but highly effective box score a “Draymond.”
  4. Outside of Klay, Steph, and JaVale, not a single other Warrior was in double figures, and the Dubs won by 16. When both Splash Brothers are clicking, it is nigh impossible to beat the Warriors. When all three of the Splash Triplets are on the floor, that impossible task somehow becomes even more
  5. While the top of the Dubs bench was incredibly productive, the bottom continues to be a grab bag. With the caveat that most of their minutes came in extended basura time, Kevon Looney was -7 in 5 minutes, James Michael McAdoo was 10 in 7 minutes, and Shaun Livingston, who has gone from shooting like a center from the field to shooting like a center from the free throw line, was -9 in 17 minutes. All three showed flashes, but their consistency leaves much to be desired.
  6. Though the Warriors won this game going away, the first quarter featured a rash of turnovers, including some of the “Steve Kerr is going to be furious” variety. Indeed, Steve Kerr was seen mouthing “simple play” to Draymond Green after a particularly bad turnover.
  7. I don’t often comment on other teams, especially since I don’t follow them closely enough to draw farsighted conclusions from their play, but the Thunder stand out as a team that could be so much more than the sum of their parts if they had a few more shooters and weren’t so reliant on hero ball. Looking beyond Westbrook, there is a not-insignificant amalgamation of raw athleticism, skill, and basketball talent, but all of it is hamstrung by an iso-heavy “clogged toilet” offense that barely makes two passes per offensive possession. The Dubs finished with 28 assists, while the Thunder only managed 18, lending credence to the theory that selfishness and unselfishness on the basketball floor are contagious.
  8. The Warriors play tomorrow night in Dallas in a matchup that will determine familial bragging rights, as Steph Curry and the Dubs will face red-hot Seth Curry and the Mavs. Come for the threes, stay for the threes.

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