The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Golden State Warriors in game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, 108-102. In a shocking turn of events that was truly a game of 2 halves, the Thunder looked all out of sorts in the early going but fortified themselves in the 2nd half against a team who has built a reputation for burying teams who are unfocused. Indeed, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were the primary culprits, committing careless turnovers early and unable to make even wide open shots (including free throws!). When now two-time MVP Stephen Curry dropped a contested 3 into the basket with zero's remaining at the end of the 1st half, it appeared that the Thunder simply wouldn't have enough to keep pace, falling behind by 13.
However, the same duo that put the Thunder in the hole in the 1st half slowly recovered in the 2nd. But even then, it is not as if OKC suddenly caught fire on offense; with 3:31 left in the 3rd, OKC trailed by 12, barely making a dent in the deficit. However, the Thunder were able to close the gap with a 16-7 run, fueled by Westbrook's relentless play and an inside game, once again led by Steven Adams (16 points, 12 boards) that slowly wore down the Warriors. When Durant splashed a 3-pointer 12 seconds into the 4th, what was once a game bearing the look of a Warriors rout was now tied, with Golden State searching for answers.
The Thunder grew their lead to 8 points with 4:41 to play, but once again went cold from the floor and with a minute to play, the lead was 1 at 101-100. Who do you turn to when you absolutely have to find something positive on offense? Steven Adams, of course. Coming out of a timeout, Adams drew a foul on Draymond Green and, with a confident 58% FT shooting ability in his back pocket and a bandaged and swollen shooting hand gingerly gripping the basketball, Adams sank both free throws to give his team breathing room. Another defensive stop give Durant one last shot at redemption after suffering through a horrible shooting night, and his 17 footer with 30 seconds left put OKC in the driver's seat to take home an improbable victory on the home court of one of the most dominant home teams in NBA history.
- A competent defense can shift all odds over the course of the game, and in this one, it kept OKC in a contest that they could have fallen out of on numerous occasions in both halves. But unlike during the regular season, they committed to it for an entire game, even when it appeared the Warriors were about to pull away, and OKC was rewarded in the end. What stood out to me the most was that the Thunder clearly had a plan for those Warrior runs. Donovan was quick and smart with his timeouts, they always came back with well-executed out-of-timeout plays, and OKC made a move to get back into contention.
- To understand how good the defense was, you need to reflect on how bad Durant was in the 1st half. Yes, Westbrook struggled from the floor too, but he was in remarkable control, guiding the offense to points and keeping them in it. But Durant was at times cover-your-eyes awful, committing unforced turnovers that led to quick Warrior points, seemed to forget how to attack the smaller Warriors defense, and shot poorly to boot.
- Three things emerged for the Thunder offense: 1) the Warriors don't have anyone even close to being able to guard Durant one-on-one, and it is going to be a mental game with KD to hunt for quality shots; 2) Westbrook will have little trouble getting into the lane, as neither Klay Thompson nor Steph Curry have the ability to move their feet the way Kawhi Leonard does on defense, but it is now incumbent to create good scoring opportunities when Westbrook gets into the lane; and 3) once again, the much maligned Thunder bench outplayed a bench that was supposedly vastly superior.
- Steven Adams. Perhaps he was never earmarked this way, and certainly not at this phase of his career, but how is he not a legitimate top-5 center in the NBA right now? He gives OKC everything they need on a night to night basis and doing it both in the official box score and the Nick Collison box score.
As Jeff Linka wrote before, game 1 is 1 game. Yes, this is true. But it improbably belongs to the Thunder, with OKC looking at mountains of opportunity to play better in game 2.
Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday, May 18th at 8PM CDT.