OAKLAND — We should first wrap our collective conscious around the idea that the Oklahoma City Thunder can absolutely win this series. They have two (healthy) superstars in their prime combined with a rugged frontline and a coach who apparently saved all of his genius adjustments for the postseason.
They have now won four straight games against the Spurs and the Warriors with two of those wins coming on the road. And they have done so in a manner that speaks to a renewed defensive commitment matched with a crunch-time poise they had not always exhibited previously.
We all knew that coming into the conference finals and while it wasn’t exactly shocking that OKC could walk out of Oracle with a 108-102 win in Game 1, it was still rather jarring to see them rally from a 13-point halftime deficit and make enough plays down the stretch to steal a game that was eminently winnable. Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised anymore. They certainly weren’t, which was why their postgame celebration was muted.
I mean, what’s to celebrate? We didn’t win the championship,” Kevin Durant said. “We’re playing in the Western Conference finals against a great team. We got a W the first Game 1, but there is a lot of basketball to be played, so we can’t be too excited. It was a good win for us, but we’re not going to be jumping up and down, chest-bumping on the court. We’ve got a lot more basketball to play.”
The Thunder scored 38 points in the third quarter and held Golden State to just 14 in the fourth. They battled the lineup of death to a draw and controlled the boards and the pace. One of their stars — Russell Westbrook — balanced a horrendous first half when he shot just 1-for-8 with a sublime second half that included 19 third quarter points. Their other star — Durant — missed numerous makeable shots down the stretch before finally sinking the backbreaker late in the fourth. As always, stars solve problems.
Yes, Westbrook traveled and it was yet another blatant missed call in a postseason that has come to be defined in part by the last-2-minute reports the NBA releases. But he didn’t throw the ball away or make bad decisions. That was the Warriors’ doing and when you put yourself at the mercy of a whistle, sometimes it’s not going to go your way.