When the Thunder went up 14 coming out in the second half, I thought the game was over. When the Warriors were down six with 13 seconds left I thought it was over. When Ellis took the 20-footer to win it, I thought it was over, for the Thunder. Sadly, that was not the case.
The Warriors held their ground against the bigger, stronger Thunder lineup and erased deficit after deficit. Most notably, their six-point comeback at the end of regulation was about as improbable as it gets. With 13 seconds on the clock and the Warriors inbounding, Reggie hit a wide-open three after a blown assignment by Sefolosha. Then with Daequan Cook inbounding for the Thunder, he throws it out of Durant’s reach and straight into Monta’s hand. He calmly steps into the corner and nailed his first three after going 0-4 for the game.
A win is always nice, but it was truly a superb effort by the Warriors, most of them anyways, against a fantastic playoff squad and on the road. While the end of regulation was a fluke, the Warriors still managed to execute well up until that point. The Warriors could learn from the Thunder who have won the most, 28 now, in games decided by five points or less. While they’d like to avoid this kind of torture, it’s an inevitable part of any season.
* * *
1st Star: Stephen Curry
He had six turnovers, costly ones, but it was too difficult to ignore his efficiency and aggressiveness. 35 points going 13-23 and 5-8 from deep with five rebounds and six assists is impressive in a vacuum. However, matching up against one of the more physical points in the league and attacking one of the most intimidating frontcourt in the West is another story. He earned every single one of his points and still managed to hold Westbrook to a 4-15, six turnover night. He drew two charges, and played the last Thunder possession perfectly only to be shafted by the referee. Even if it was an innocuous 1st quarter possession, it would still be an iffy to call. To make that kind of borderline call with the game on the line took some real guts. Jerks.
2nd Star: David Lee
He got his first rest near the end of the third quarter, but never once look tired or outmatched against the Thunder’s bruising bigs. Ibaka still had his way around the paint with a few easy putbacks, but the man is a spectacular physical specimen. I didn’t watch Lee too much during his time in New York, but I’m liking the physical play I’m seeing from him. If he can earn a more hard-nosed reputation with the refs he’ll be shown more respect , allowing him to stand a fighting chance against the elite 4s and 5s of the league. 24 points (11-17), 15 rebounds, four assists in 48 brutal minutes.
3rd Star: Ekpe Udoh
His value is becoming more and more evident with each game Biedrins sits out. I would really love to see him play significant minutes to close out the season because he has grown quite a bit in such a short time. His help defense is improving and the timing on his blocks is getting better, if you can believe that. His mere presence in the paint helps ease the minds of Steph and Monta because they’ll have legitimate help if they get beat. Much like how Ibaka blocks shots to start fast breaks, I can see Udoh providing a similar service. Rebounding is still an issue, but he’s got time. 12 points, six rebounds, two steals, and three blocks. Let’s get that new CBA settled quickly.
* * *
Monta Ellis: It was tough leaving Monta off the list with the big shots he hit, but I can’t let him slide for his 9-30 night. Clearly his shot wasn’t going, but it was his insistence on scoring that absolutely devastated Golden State. I don’t have a problem with Monta shooting open jumpers, but when his touch is off I’d like to see him take a step back and look to facilitate more. Scoring is the primary objective of basketball, but there are so many means to achieve this without shooting. Yes, he had 11 assists, but this spoke more of his usage than his willingness to pass. 20 points on 30 shots is simply unacceptable for the supposed face of the franchise.
Trusting Steph: I thought it was a great move, or non-move, by Coach Smart to leave Steph in the game after picking up his second foul with four minutes left in the 1st. He trusted him enough to play smart and even put him back at the 8-minute mark after taking him out near the end of the 1st quarter. Steph needs to learn by playing through mistakes, not sitting after making them.
Chucking and sucking: Monta and Dorell were a combined 11-43, 25.5%, while the rest of the team shot 33-61, 54%. Dorell had a few iffy shots, but I’m sure his thumb was bothering him after jamming it in the first. A terrible shooting night of truly epic proportions for the two. Any other night from them might have handed the W’s a win here, but it’s really just pointless speculation by now.
FT differential A -16 FT differential is simply too much to overcome. Even the best teams can’t dig themselves out of this kind of hole. The Warriors sport the worst differential in the league, and it’s not even close. You could take the second worst team, the Wizards, and double their differential, -4.54, and the Warriors are still worse at -9.33. If they’re going to improve in any one area, this has to be it.
Thunder young’ns: 22, 22, 21, 21, 26, 26. The age of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Harden, Perkins, Sefolosha. Keep these six together and you have a title contender for the next six years, at least. Ridiculous collection of young talent which even ignores the intriguing 23-year-old in Eric Maynor. League Pass anyone?
James Harden: After watching Harden tonight, I’m convinced he’s a much better player than Green ever was or will be. He’s a pesky defender, has surprising athleticism, and just plays smart basketball. If he can continue to improve his shot, especially the three, he may even replace Thabo next season. It’s unlikely though, because he seems to excel in this role like Manu and Jason Terry have.
The More You Know: With 11 assists, Monta has now made it three straight games with double-digit assists, a first in his career. It may be long overdue, but perhaps it’s a sign of a subtle shift towards a more balanced scoring effort. One can only hope.
* * *
A tough back-to-back against the Grizzlies at Memphis. With Rudy Gay done for the season, the Grizzlies have actually stepped up their play as of late. With notable wins over the Celtics and a Duncan-less Spurs squad, the Warriors may even have a tougher time here than in OKC. Tony Allen will be giving Monta fits all night, so he’ll need to adjust his game accordingly. Everything will be working against the Warriors in this one, but maybe the team can magically pull one out like they almost did tonight. 111-104.