Is Oklahoma City lucky? Or are they just this good? Not only did they beat the 67-win San Antonio Spurs in six games, but their Game 1 shocker against the Warriors also proves they’re ready to compete against the title favorites. The Thunder walked out of Oracle Arena on Monday with a 108-102 win, and they hit on all the right cylinders to claim their victory.
Lack Of Turnovers
In their three matchups against the Warriors in the regular season, OKC averaged 17 turnovers per game which allowed the Warriors to speed up the pace and get their offense in rhythm. Monday’s game had an obscure paradox: Oklahoma City was able to turn over the ball less than the Warriors, 11-14. Of those 11, ten of them came during the Thunder’s rocky first half where they trailed 13 at the break. Kevin Durant and Westbrook were responsible for seven of them, and the Warriors kept their turnovers to just seven.
When Golden State turns you over, their break is almost unstoppable because their shooters run to the wings, putting defenses at a severe disadvantage. Moreover, almost all of their shooters are great at attacking the rim and will blow right by their defender.
Their lone second half turnover came with 4:35 left in the third, meaning OKC played a spotless fourth quarter, which was huge for them to come out victorious. The severe reduction of turnovers halted Golden State’s ability to get transition buckets, and they had just one fast break point in the second half, compared to 22 in the first.
Westbrook’s Dominant Third Quarter
Not only did Russell Westbrook record 19 of the Thunder’s 38 points, but he also didn’t score for almost the first five minutes of the quarter. His first bucket came with about seven minutes left (7:02 to be exact), and it was a prayer three with the shot clock winding down. By the end of the period, Westbrook made 5/9 from the field, and 2/3 from three, unusual for a 34% shooter; seven made foul shots in eight attempts finished off his scoring. He then built upon his scoring effort and showed why he’s the energizer bunny of this Thunder team.
The passing lanes were played vehemently by Westbrook, and he picked off three passes to go along with three assists and two rebounds. This outburst came after a relatively quiet first half. Unable to get any shots to fall, Russ’ first two quarters ended with seven misses in eight attempts, but he was an active playmaker with eight assists and had raked in four steals.
His play that quarter allowed OKC to get within three points, 88-85, and put them in a great spot for a comeback.
Bully Ball Beat Small Ball
The “death lineup,” as it was so appropriately called on TNT last night, had very little success in the second half against Oklahoma City. Below is a comparison of that Golden State lineup against the Thunder’s big lineup which is anchored by Enes Kanter and Steven Adams in the frontcourt.
How did this happen? In all honesty, I believe the Thunder just wanted it more. As the best rebounding team in the league, they killed the Warriors on the glass in the second half of Game 1, having a rebound margin of 11, 30-19. Their perimeter defense was extraordinary as well, and they limited Golden State to just 4/17 from three and Stephen Curry was the only one to hit from the outside against them– the Warriors weren’t much better from two-point range and shot a mediocre 44%. Westbrook’s relentlessness on the offensive end was a huge catalyst as well, and he went to the foul line 12 times, connecting on eight of them.
It’s important to remember that this series is far from over. And if it weren’t for that third quarter explosion from Russ, we probably would be having a different discussion. Both teams played poorly in the fourth; the Warriors played slightly worse than the Thunder, allowing them to edge them out 23-14 in the final frame.