OAKLAND — This Golden State team has never been here before.
Prior to Monday’s 108-102 loss in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors had a perfect 6-0 record in the first game of a playoff series during the Steve Kerr Era.
Oklahoma City put this cast of actors in an unfamiliar scene, opening the door to a new dynamic and a wave of pressure that hasn’t been there until this matchup.
And don’t get it twisted. After halftime, it wasn’t even close.
The Thunder outscored the Warriors 61-42, shot a better percentage from the field, outrebounded them 30-19, turned it over twice compared to the Warriors’ seven, got to the free throw line 13 more times (scored 18 points there), and even the fast break points favored the Thunder, 14-1.
Forward Draymond Green said it best: “Offensively, we sucked.”
The Warriors’ shot selection was atrocious when it mattered most and, as unkind as the rim seemed to be, the Thunder’s defense had a lot to do with that.
Russell Westbrook went berserk after the break, netting 24 points, and scored 19 of those in the third quarter alone. He, along with Durant, demonstrated why they’re the second-highest scoring duo in NBA history, besting the Splash Brothers 37-19 over the final 24 minutes. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined for only seven makes, 14 misses and five turnovers.
Thunder center Steven Adams lived up to being the x-factor he was touted to be, scoring 16 points and corralling 12 rebounds in 37 minutes of action. Andrew Bogut was the only guy that had the length to contend with the New Zealander, but he was held off the floor during the final frame when the Warriors put Green at center with the deficit growing and points coming at a higher and higher premium.
But salty Warriors fans will point to the Westbrook travel that wasn’t called and the timeout that was, with 17 seconds left and the home team down three.
Granted, Senior Vice President of Replays and Referee Operations, Steve Borgia, told NBA TV that “it’s an unfortunate miss,” but to say the game was lost on that play is like saying yesterday’s Big Mac is the reason you had a heart attack.
The Thunder did what they came to Oakland to do, and that was win just one.
“We didn’t win the championship,” Durant said. “We’re playing in the Western Conference Finals against a great team. We got a ‘W’ in the first game, but there is a lot of basketball to be played.”
It’s a refreshing change to see a team that won an NBA-record 73 games in the regular season in this position. We’ll get a glimpse of the greatness they possess by seeing how they respond to this.
Or, this summer’s feel-good feature may turn into a blockbuster tragedy.