The Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the Golden State Warriors in game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, 120-111. In OKC's first series close-out game in two years, they failed to repeat the same kind of performance that they had at home, and the Warriors have a shot at tying up the series at 3-3 Saturday night in game 6.
The Thunder loss was very much in the same vein as their loss to the Mavericks in game 2 of the first round and game 3 in the semifinals vs the Spurs. For some odd reason, whenever they seem to have figured things out and find their new rhythm and song, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go rummaging through their old music collection again, 'rediscovering' one of their secret, shame-filled jams. Hey, "What's This Life For" really spoke to me once, it's a good song. No, no it isn't. It's horrible. The whole discography is horrible. Throw it away.*
It is really difficult to rationalize these types of Thunder losses, perhaps because they keep resurfacing in such a putrid manner, not unlike the missing eggs from the Easter Egg hunt 3 months ago. Essentially, the Thunder offense reverted to the Scott Brooks era, abandoning so many of the wonderful things that we saw in games 3 and 4 during much of game 5. We got the better way in glimpses, but by and large the great screening from Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, the two man game between Andre Roberson and Serge Ibaka, and Westbrook, creator, were largely absent. Instead of Batman and Robin, we got Bluntman and Chronic, hoisting up shots with little discretion or awareness of the situation at hand. Kevin Durant hoisted up 31 shots, making 12, while Russell Westbrook fired up 28, making only 11. So many of the possessions looked like the Warriors' from the past two games, where there was virtually no ball movement and then a quick shot.
The final score doesn't show it, but once again the Thunder defense was solid. Not great, but good enough. Yes, they did give up 39 points in the 4th quarter, but a whopping 18 of those came at the free throw line for the Warriors. Through 3 quarters, they had held the Warriors to 81 points and 2 sub-standard quarters. But rather, it was the Thunder offense that was to blame for the Warrior offensive output, as Golden State recorded 28 fast break points, often out of steals and horribly run offensive sets. Every time...every time...Westbrook and Durant launch themselves into the lane with nary a plan in place, they are playing precisely into the hands of the Warriors defense. That recklessness is the only way a guy as small as Curry can boast that he sorta-kinda blocked Durant's shot in the 4th quarter.
And yet. And yet. This is the splinter that never seems to be fully extracted - the Thunder duo of Durant and Westbrook are so good, so aggressive, that there they were, with 30 seconds left in the game, presented with a wide open 3-point attempt by KD that would have cut the deficit to 3 points. And with 30 seconds left, good defense and a rebound would have assured them of a chance to make a run at the tie. Yet just as we saw against the Mavs and Spurs, OKC couldn't overcome their shaky fundamentals in the game. KD missed the 3, Golden State hit their free throws, and it's back to OKC for a second close-out game, but this one with pressure increased tenfold. Alas.
- High respect to Andrew Bogut, who has largely been absent this series. Just as we saw in game 2, if the Warriors can rebound with the Thunder, they stand a great chance to win. Bogut helped the Warriors battle to a tie on the rebounding front, and chipped in 15 points, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks to boot. He's a fantastic player when he has a role to play, which means OKC did a very poor job in getting him off the court.
- And speaking of Bogut, I was quite surprised to not see Enes Kanter get more burn in this game, when Kerr unsurprisingly committed to going big for most of the game. Kanter played only 6 minutes and got 1 shot up. Yes, Kanter is going to struggle with the Warriors' fantastic post-up + double guard pretzel twist set play (I'm sure there's a proper name for it, but I'm not going to look it up right now because I'm distraught), but if Bogut is out there, Kanter can hang with him. And Enes is a much better rebounder than Ibaka is. Lastly, he's a fantastic pick and roll big man, which OKC could have really used when their 1st half offense struggled so greatly.
- Nobody played well tonight, but Serge Ibaka was perhaps the best player on the court for the Thunder. Serge kept his head in the game even though he wasn't getting a ton of shots (5-10), but his 3-point shooting kept OKC in the game.
- Anthony Morrow had a surprise appearance tonight, and we are once again painfully reminded at how Donovan probably ran out of time this season in how to integrate the sharpshooter. Morrow scored 10 points in 7 minutes. And Morrow's Moriarty, Andre Roberson, played a strong game, but eventually fouled out on a careless play against Stephen Curry. But again, Roberson was solid on defense, and helped OKC keep the Warrior shooting down to the tune of only 9-24 from 3-point range.
- Silver lining: the Warriors played solid, but not the way they played in game 2, a credit to OKC's defense. What they did not do, however, was beat themselves (Draymond Green in particular), and that allowed them to control much of the game. OKC by contrast beat themselves often, didn't play well, and yet were within 2 possessions during crunch time. Their team still has a pathway to victory in this series, but tonight's strategy won't cut it. In fact, the only thing it will earn them if they repeat it in game 6 is a game 7.
Game 6 scheduled for Saturday, May 28th at 8PM CDT
*Makers Mark, if you were wondering