The Warriors haven’t been in this position for several months. They are now underdogs. And if that’s weird to the general public, just imagine how the defending champs with the best regular season record of all-time feel.
Technically, Golden State was in the role of favorites until now because they were favored by seven points going into Game 4. They covered, winning 120-111 to keep their season alive. Most thought the Thunder would need to win Game 6 to keep their season from ending, but they are two-point favorites to close out the Western Conference Finals on their home floor. And based on the demeanor of their two superstars at the podium, they feel like the bullies.
Kevin Durant smirks, Russell Westbrook scoffs
The pair was asked about Steph Curry’s big steal in the fourth, his fifth of the night.
With the Warriors holding an 8-point lead and less than two minutes remaining, Durant looked to drive on the smallest defender on the floor (who found himself guarding Durant with surprising frequency in the final minutes).
Curry picked Durant’s pocket and dribbled to the other end before taking it back out. Then he started pounding his chest. Once, twice, three times. Maybe Curry was desperate to raise the crowd noise by a few decibels, or perhaps he thought that was the final dagger. Steven Adams noticed that Curry’s swag was outpacing his attention to detail, and he went in for the steal. Adams almost succeeded, but Curry saved the possession, dribbled his way through a thicket and made the kind of acrobatic layup the Warriors have been desperate to see all series. Now THAT was a dagger.
Curry rips Durant and then finishes the play with the crazy lay-up. https://t.co/OUOrnSPS0m
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 27, 2016
The crowd went bonkers. Curry yelled, “We ain’t going home!”
Durant and Westbrook weren’t impressed, especially when the reporter who mentioned the steal ended with, “Do you think that he’s underrated as a defender?”
Durant came close to rolling his eyes. Westbrook rubbed his face, laughing and shaking his head.
“I mean, getting steals. I don’t know if that just — that’s a part of playing defense,” Durant said.
“He’s pretty good, but he doesn’t guard the best point guards. I think they do a good job of putting a couple of guys on Russell, from Thompson to Iguodala, and Steph, they throw him in there sometimes. He moves his feet pretty well. He’s good with his hands. But, you know, I like our matchup with him guarding Russ.”
It wasn’t even disdain. It was sheer mockery — perhaps Durant was a little more subtle than his teammate, but his words included the same knock Curry has heard hundreds of times before. But, to Curry’s credit, he answered a tattle-tale “OMG did you hear what this dude on the other team said about you” question (reporters love doing this) without taking the bait.
“I’ve got a great teammate that’s obviously a better defender on the perimeter. I like the challenge. I’ll do my job the best I can. That’s what I’m out there to do,” Curry said.
“So in those situations, I don’t get too caught up in the one-on-one matchup. My job is to follow the game plan, and I’ve done that the last four years of my career, trying to elevate my defensive presence and do my job.”
He may have handled that with the kind of polished response that makes him every PR person’s dream, but oooooooh, is Curry going to be mad once he sees the clip of Westbrook laughing at him, like he’s some freshman trying to run with the varsity. Not that he or the Warriors will need any added motivation on Saturday, of course.
Can the Warriors win Game 6?
The back-and-forth sniping is a fun, inevitable bonus when two NBA teams battle each other for several games in a row. Yet, the only thing that matters is the question above. And the answer is … maybe?
“I liked our will, I liked our fight,” said Steve Kerr. “We were embarrassed in OKC the last couple games. We fought hard tonight, and that’s half the battle.”
On the positive side for Golden State:
- Curry scored 31 and grabbed 7 rebounds, including several important ones in the fourth quarter.
- The Warriors and Thunder drew even in that department, each ending up with 45 boards.
- They held Durant (12-for-31) and Westbrook (11-for-28) to nearly identical bad shooting nights.
- Oklahoma City made the game very tense in the third quarter. They also did so at the end, despite Golden State’s 11-point advantage with less than a minute left, but the Warriors were able to find answers they couldn’t on the road each time.
- Andrew Bogut, who Kerr called out publicly before this game for lackluster, foul-laden play throughout the series, issued one of the best postseason performances of his career (15 points, 14 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks). Apparently criticism affects Bogut like spinach affects Popeye.
- Mo Speights scored 14 points in 8:31, took two charges, and landed on Durant twice (ouch).
- Draymond Green didn’t shoot too much in Game 5, and after his frustrated gesture drew his fifth technical foul of the playoffs (two away from an automatic one-game suspension), he pushed the pace and defended like he’s been expected to for the entire series. Green had four blocks while the Thunder only had two as a team.
In many ways, the Warriors were what they’ve wanted to be for several days. They kept saying they wanted to go back to being “us,” and they looked closer to the team that dazzled during the regular season.
That being said, they’ll need to be much more precise on Saturday night to bring this series back to Oakland.
- The Thunder went on a 18-9 run to start the third quarter that gave the visitors a 1-point lead — the Warriors were able to regroup afterward, seizing the lead and never relinquishing it, but that situation probably would’ve spiraled out of control away from Oracle Arena.
- Golden State inexplicably keeps fouling 3-point shooters.
- With Curry unable to shake bigger defenders, the rest of the team needs to avoid getting into the bad habit of watching him work. That also goes for situations like the end of tonight’s game, when Curry was triple-teamed and turned the ball over in part because his teammates didn’t run up court, likely assuming he’d be fouled instead of following him and providing help.
They deserve credit for defending better, finding a way to win when the “Death Lineup” doesn’t pack the same punch as it has all season, and not collapsing after two deflating, blowout losses. Still, the Warriors must dig even deeper to win Game 6 than they did during a spirited Game 5 win.
“We’ve got to play with the same kind of intensity and emotion on Saturday, maybe even exceed it because we’re playing in their building,” said Klay Thompson, who finished with 27 points.
“And if we do that and play with the same poise we did tonight, we’ll be in a great position.”
— “I had four crappy games and tried to have a good fifth one and didn’t want to have it end tonight,” said Andrew Bogut.
— “The difference in this game was the fact that they went to the free throw line 34 times,” said Billy Donovan. “To me, that was something that was very, very difficult to overcome.”
The Thunder went to the line 24 times, but the disparity looked more drastic because the Warriors shot nine free throws in the last 1:02 of the game (one thanks to a technical foul by … Donovan). What Donovan was probably getting at was the early part of the game, when the Thunder were called seven fouls in the first quarter compared to just one for the previously foul-happy Warriors.
Overall, the whistle was pretty friendly to Golden State. We’ll see if that changes as the series moves east. The Thunder shot 77 free throws combined in Games 3 and 4, compared to 54 for the Warriors.
— The crowd was late-arriving, which we probably have to accept as the norm in the Bay Area when the game starts at exactly 6 pm on a weekday. Traffic around here gets worse every year, and people have to work to afford tickets these tickets. However, the crowd settled in and was noticeably more enthusiastic than the ones for Games 1 and 2.
— Curry seemed more worried about screaming “ain’t” during the game than anything Durant said about his defensive prowess.
“That’s great grammar, right? My Davidson people would be very embarrassed.”