Do the Oklahoma City Thunder have your attention now?
The Warriors aren’t impervious to playoff losses. They lost against the lowly Houston Rockets in a game that didn’t involve Stephen Curry and needed James Harden fall away jumper with seconds left. The Blazers – and more specifically, Damian Lillard — handled the Warriors in Portland in Game 3 last round.
This team is beatable, albeit barely, and have shown that they’re at their most vulnerable when they simply get bored, careless and know they can comeback. That’s the one, if only, downside to being so great: believing that under any circumstance you have the firepower and composure to overcome any obstacle.
On Monday, the Warriors couldn’t complete the comeback. The Thunder held off the Warriors in a rare home loss for Golden State. The crowds were slow arriving, techy and as quiet as the Warriors were in the second half. The arena expected the improbable display of theatrics that fans became so accustomed to watching throughout their historic season.
Despite the Thunder beating the lauded San Antonio Spurs in six games (including two in Texas), there was still a sense of eerie calmness simmering throughout. This was never clearer than the second half, when the Warriors turned into their own opponent: tough, quick shots, little offensive flow, turnovers and lackadaisical defense.
This wasn’t the case in the first half, as the Warriors built up a 13-point halftime lead in atypical Warriors fashion: some ridiculously tough makes from the backcourt, points off turnovers and three-point shots. The entire building went on cruise control, assuming the lead would extend and the game would be iced in the final quarter like they usually do.
But, no one has played better than the Thunder as of late, and the ferocity of Russell Westbrook and defensive intensity of Oklahoma City picked up greatly after the half. Westbrook notched 19 points in the third quarter alone, adding three steals and three assists towards his stuffed line. The Thunder outscored the Warriors 38-28 in the quarter, and the uneasiness began to waft throughout the Bay Area.
“We kept fouling them. In the third quarter we fouled so much,” said Steve 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.”
The Thunder shot 16 free throws in the third, a number that more than doubled the Warriors (7) that quarter. The pace bogged down, and the Warriors were suddenly out of their element. The otherworldly shots that usually go down suddenly were rattling out. Loose balls weren’t bouncing their way. The Warriors were flustered, and all this came with Kevin Durant going just 3-for-7 in all 12 minutes.
“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,” said Stephen Curry. “Then we had the opportunity, we just got out of character a little bit, but it’s something we’ll learn from going forward.”
There was a growing sense from the Warriors that they beat themselves, and even though they gave credit to the Thunder for exposing their faults, it was game they should’ve easily won. “We have to be better at being us,” Curry said following the game. There was no panic surrounding the team following their loss, but there’s certainly anxiety heading into a crucial Game 2.
The last two times they trailed in the playoffs – Memphis and Cleveland – they came back to win the remaining games in the series. It wouldn’t shock anyone if the Warriors made the necessary adjustments to do just that, but that’s a daunting task against the Thunder and their erratic but gifted team. Yet, even after their first Game 1 loss in the Steve Kerr era, they still haven’t lost back-to-back games this season. Despite the deficit, a win is expected on Wednesday, because that’s what the Warriors do.
Curry can’t play as much off-ball as he did in Game 1, especially late in the game. The Thunder adjusted and forced Thompson and Draymond Green into numerous isolation scenarios. The offense was limited in ball movement and growing accustomed to turnovers. Curry had seven for the game, which combined with the Thunder’s athleticism results in points nearly every time.
The Warriors followed their 28-point third with a 14-point fourth quarter. The Thunder defense tightened, the Warriors became complacent with trying to hit the dagger and unlike Houston or Portland, the opponent can have an off night and still win. Durant 26 points on 30 shots, and despite hit second half heroics, Westbrook began the game 1-for-8.
“As basketball players we have to heighten the sense of urgency and heighten the sense of ball possessions, and pace, and flow,” said Andre Iguodala. “It’s good to get hit in the mouth, that’s when it really shows. We’ve got some work to do tomorrow.”
The Warriors certainly got hit where it hurts in Game 1, but like they’ve done all season, it’s how they respond that’s been key. Adjustments will be made, but if they continue to hurt themselves in the process, said adjustments won’t matter. They know this, and the Thunder are the perfect team to exploit such mistakes. They have everyone’s attention now, but this series is far from over.