Russell Westbrook was blowing past defenders and getting all the way to the rim, Paul George was getting his hand on every attempted pass, Carmelo Anthony was stepping into catch-and-shoot threes and Steven Adams was doing all the dirty work. All was right in Thunderland once again.
Unlike in recent weeks, it wasn’t a quick start for the Thunder, but something much, much more important than that happened. Head Coach Billy Donovan received the longest sustained level of execution, intensity, focus and discipline on Wednesday night in the Thunder’s 108-91 pre-Thanksgiving thumping of the Golden State Warriors, the NBA’s defending champions.
A 14-4 burst in the middle of the first quarter helped the Thunder grab control of the momentum, and from there Donovan’s club methodically and steadily increased the lead and sustained it throughout the night. During this tough stretch of adversity, this was a welcome slow, steady burn of a win as the Thunder gradually pushed its lead into the teens, and then all the way to 26 towards the end of the fourth quarter. With 8:09 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Warriors called it a night and took the starters out and the Thunder coasted to the finish line.
There was no coasting during the first three-and-a-half quarters tonight, and that made all the difference for the Thunder. Westbrook was at his best tonight, a fireball of energy making his way all around the court. He was shot out of a cannon in transition to push ahead for layups and three-pointers for teammates in the secondary break. On defense he was disruptive, racking up four of the Thunder’s 15 steals.
“I feel like that’s my gift,” Westbrook divulged. “To be able to come out every single night and use my energy and my enthusiasm to keep our team going.”
The reigning MVP’s intensity was palpable, and obviously with the matchup against Golden State, the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd was reaching extreme decibel levels all night long.
“It felt good just to be a part of that,” said forward Carmelo Anthony, who scored 22 points on 8-for-17 shooting, got the Thunder going early and stepped into some pretty catch-and-shoot three-pointers. “It feels good to be on this side of it, coming from the east coast where rivalries are everything and you know what that’s about, you know what it is and you know what it feels like.”
The Thunder made some rotational adjustments tonight, moving starting center Steven Adams into some minutes with the second unit at the beginning of the second quarter. The Thunder also utilized a rare lineup of Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Jerami Grant, Josh Huestis and Patrick Patterson. No matter which group was on the floor, it help up even against the talented Warriors because of the trust and concentration on defense.
The ringleader on that end was Paul George, who according to NBA.com registered 10 of the Thunder’s 27 deflections in addition to making four steals and blocking two shots. Grant came from the weakside and swatted two of Kevin Durant’s dunk attempts that will make the highlight reel, but it was George and Roberson’s perimeter defense against Durant and Klay Thompson that helped prevent those explosive runs that Golden State is prone to going on. A major part of the Thunder’s disruptiveness was because George was being aggressive and thwarting possessions with his length.
“That’s what he do,” Anthony chuckled when asked about George’s steals. “Someway, somehow, he always gets his hand on the basketball. That’s why he’s leading the league in steals right now and he’s a big part of why our defense is so good.”
“We didn’t want to allow them to get easy threes or get easy plays to get the momentum and swing the game,” George explained. “When we did turn the ball over we got back and we just played defense. We played defense all over the board and we had an attitude and a swagger defensively that we weren’t going to give up easy baskets.”
While the Thunder was able to turn 22 Warriors turnovers into 34 points, including a whopping 33 fast break points, it also was strong in the halfcourt against a great defensive club. Early in the game the ball zipped around as movement on and off the ball helped generate advantage situations. What was most integral to the offense’s productive night, however, was Westbrook being able to turn the corner and get downhill into the paint. The result was shown in his shooting numbers: 13-for-27 for a season-high 34 points, to go with 10 rebounds and nine assists.
“My job is to make sure I’m in the paint whether I’m scoring or dishing out to other guys. I’m trying to get down into the paint as much as possible,” Westbrook explained.
“You run with Russ, it’s a win-win,” George said, before referencing his four three-pointers, which all came in broken floor situations. “I’m helping him out by giving him space and he’s helping me out by creating opportunities. It’s a track meet once we get that ball and we’re out.”
Because of the ball movement and player movement, the Thunder was able to throw all of its punches tonight. It had balanced scoring, 13 offensive rebounds and only allowed 10 fast break points because the floor was spaced correctly and shots were taken within the flow of the offense. Finally, the Thunder broke through and crested the top of that hill it had been climbing. There’s no time now to exhale. This effort, the 48 minutes of sustained focus and concentration, that has to be the Thunder every night.
“Whenever you can keep teams on their heels and everything is clicking from that standpoint, it makes us a tough team to beat.” Anthony noted.
“We can’t come this far tonight and then have slippage on Friday against Detroit,” Anthony added. “We have to learn from this, we have to build on this and hopefully it starts something moving forward.”Highlights: Thunder vs. Warriors
By the Numbers
34 – Points for Russell Westbrook, a game-high and season-high, on 13-for-27 shooting, to go with 10 rebounds and 9 assists
34-15 - Advantage for the Thunder in points off turnovers, as it made 15 steals and forced 22 giveaways compared to 22 assists
50-39 - Rebounding advantage for the Thunder, which contributed to holding Golden State to just 38 points in the paint
The Last Word
“First and foremost, this was a great team win, a great team victory. Tonight we showed who we can be, who we want to be and who we think we can be. We did it for a full game rather than a half or a quarter. We put together a full game. We challenged ourselves to come out in that second half and continue playing the same way, or even try to take it up another notch.” – forward Carmelo Anthony