Yes, Russell Westbrook traveled with 17 seconds left and the Warriors down three. But that’s not why the Warriors lost 108-102 to the Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
“They played better than us in the second half,” Draymond Green said.
“You can’t win like that, being outscored in any half by 19. That’s tough. We’ll be OK. This is foreign territory for us, we’ve never lost a Game 1 in this era. It’s a little something different, but embrace the challenge and let’s get it going from here.”
The Warriors looked ready for any challenge in the first half, building a lead throughout and finishing with a tough 3-pointer from Stephen Curry to give the Warriors a 13-point halftime advantage. Their defense kept Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook from doing much damage, and Oklahoma City’s supposedly huge advantage on the glass didn’t appear to be a problem.
Maybe Golden State got a little carried away, thinking they would run away with this game like the Spurs did in Game 1 of their second round series with the Thunder.
Yet it wasn’t as much the Warriors trying to protect their lead as the Thunder simply roaring back with a 38-point third quarter. Westbrook scored 19, with his shot coming back from the dead the moment he hit a 3-pointer after a 1-for-10 start. Oklahoma City did a lot of their damage from the line, making 13-of-16 free throws, but they also finished the quarter with a 12-1 edge in fast break points.
“We kept fouling them. In the third quarter we fouled so much,” said Kerr. “So now we’re bringing the ball up the floor every time against a set defense, and they’re getting points at the line.”
Green mostly echoed Kerr when I asked him about the third quarter.
“Usually when you turn the ball over on them they’re going to dunk. They’re that athletic. We were all out of sync on the offensive end a couple times. We didn’t get back, and we fouled way too much in that third quarter … So cut down on the turnovers and stop fouling. That’s kind of what the third quarter was for us, a lot of both.”
Oklahoma City put pressure on Golden State with their play, and the Warriors wilted. They rushed shots late — threes early in the shot clock and frantic layup attempts that were often altered by Steven Adams. And thanks to much better perimeter defense — lots of switching — that didn’t allow Curry or Thompson to break free on their off-the-ball movements with the same ease they experienced in the first half, Oklahoma City was able to clinch it with a late dagger jumper from Durant, who played every minute of the second half and nearly 46 minutes overall.
“We got rushed a little bit and tried to go for the home run plays. Sometimes it works. When you get a feel that’s not clicking, you’re not getting the shots that you want, you’re kind of forcing it,” said Curry, who only scored 3 points in the fourth quarter.
“We need to have more composure to be able to slow it down and work those possessions, because defensively we were getting enough stops and rebounds. Then we had the opportunity, we just got out of character a little bit, but it’s something we’ll learn from going forward.”
It was so odd to see these Warriors, who all season looked like the best closing team in the league — including more than once against this same Oklahoma City team (which doesn’t exactly look the same anymore) — fading so noticeably after halftime. On Monday, the Thunder played the way the less-than-boisterous crowd at Oracle expects/demands the home team to play.
“They hit a tough three going into the half. We didn’t hang our heads,” said Durant, who scored 26 on 10-of-30 shooting. “We just kept coming at them on both ends of the floor. So that was good for us. Late in the game when we needed it, we got stops, we got rebounds and we were able to score.”
The Warriors know they can’t let this happen again.
“We won so many games (during the regular season), a lot of our flaws are overlooked. I see them from time to time,” said Andre Iguodala.
“As basketball players we have to heighten the sense of urgency and heighten the sense of ball possessions, and pace, and flow. It’s good to get hit in the mouth, that’s when it really shows. We’ve got some work to do tomorrow.”
— The mood in the Warriors locker room was quiet, but certainly not funereal. Curry struck an optimistic tone during his press conference, too.
“Obviously it’s not a good feeling losing Game 1 especially at home, and it will be a different situation for us to try to bounce back at this point in the series having a deficit. So I think it’s fun to be able to have this opportunity to come back and show what we’re made of, show our resiliency.”
— “I think our defensive game plan was pretty good, really good,” Green said. “Offensively, we sucked.”
— Klay Thompson was the Warriors’ best all-around player for three quarters, but he went 0-for-4 in the fourth.
— Curry (10) and Thompson (9) led the Warriors in rebounding. Green, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut combined for only 13. It was clear that the Warriors’ frontcourt was tasked with boxing out, with the guards crashing. However, that doesn’t really help the Warriors get out in transition with their two best scoring threats, so we’ll see if this strategy changes in Game 2.
— Kerr won’t give Festus Ezeli minutes if he can’t catch passes.
— Then again, Curry committed 7 turnovers and some of his passes reminded us of the guy who used to get replaced in the fourth quarter by Acie Law back in the Keith Smart days.
— I’m legitimately wondering if Bob Fitzgerald’s head exploded during this game, with Curry flinging terrible passes, Oklahoma City’s huge edge at the line, and the obvious blown call.
— Barnes had one of his most efficient games of the playoffs, but he was barely seen between his early hot stretch (3-for-3, with two 3-pointers) and the end of the game.
— Adams has become a tremendous player. He only had two blocks, but it seemed like he changed at least a half dozen. He even scored 16 points and made key free throws at the end of the game.
— Again, the officials did NOT steal this game from the Warriors. But Joe Borgia, NBA SVP Replay and Referee Operations, admitted that they missed that travel by Westbrook.
“The officials are thinking possibly that Thompson might want to take a foul, so they’re focusing a lot on Thompson. Then all of a sudden Westbrook just pulls up. The officials, no one could get in a good position to see him drag that pivot foot. It’s an unfortunate miss, but so much going on in that play, the speed of it, and officiating is about getting angles and sometimes you just can’t get them, and they did not get a great angle on that play.”
— Curry mentioned the need to be “us” at least three times, including this answer to a question about Oklahoma City’s improvements on defense.
“At the end of the day, when we are at our best, no matter how good a defense is, we move the ball, we move bodies, we set good screens and make defenses pay for being aggressive out on the perimeter. Tonight that wasn’t us. So they’re going to continue to throw whatever adjustments at us, but we have to be better at being us.”
— I made a pretty significant error after the game, misquoting Iguodala on Twitter. I was in the back of a pretty big scrum, and Iguodala speaks pretty softly to reporters, but I thought I heard him say “we don’t feel threatened in any situation.”
According to the transcripts provided by the NBA, here’s what he said, in context.
“With us, the mindset is you feel threatened like you’re in a corner after a loss. But when you’re in the situation we’re in right now in the Western Conference Finals, if you don’t feel threatened in any situation you shouldn’t be here.”
I’ve seen some things in these playoff transcripts that didn’t sound like what I had recorded, but my phone couldn’t pick up what he said clearly, so I’ll take the “L” here.
— Hopefully for the Warriors, who seemed a little too desperate to get their fans into the game at times, the Game 2 crowd will bring the bedlam in a must-win game. Other than Game 2 against Portland, a 7:30 pm start without Curry (so ticket prices were lower), the fans haven’t been quite as loud as in previous seasons. With an early start (6 pm, when Bay Area traffic is simply awful most weekdays), the crowd was full of late arrivals, and only really got going when Curry and Thompson made threes. The fans did look cool, however, with bracelets that lit up during the pregame festivities and whenever the Warriors scored. But there weren’t many moments when this concrete building shook.