Thunder Doesn’t Flinch, Routs Warriors Despite Adversity – OKC 125, GSW 105

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

OAKLAND – Paul George saw the baseline drive coming, and knew he had to defend both the corner and the wing at the same time while his teammates scrambled back into position. Playing centerfield, George jabbed to the corner to bait the pass to the wing, and somehow snared it with one hand for one of his six steals in the game. Coming down the other end of the floor, George danced with the ball out top, clearly bristling with rhythm and confidence, and buried a three-pointer over the defense.

It was a defining moment of the Thunder’s 125-105 road drubbing of the Golden State Warriors, the NBA’s defending champs, and it snapped a four-game losing skid for Oklahoma City. It was a dominant performance – a wire-to-wire win – the first time the Warriors hadn’t led in a home game all season long. The victory was even sweeter however, because of what the Thunder had to go through to get it.

The injury to Andre Roberson threw a wrench in the Thunder’s rotations over the last few games, so Head Coach Billy Donovan decided to start Josh Huestis alongside George, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams.

Turns out in the first half that the Thunder only ended up having the latter two for 11 total minutes. Anthony rolled his ankle after just six minutes of play and had to leave the game. Adams picked up three fouls, including two really cheap ones in just five minutes of action. Suddenly, the Thunder was missing three of its normal starters.

No matter. This resilient bunch just kept on playing. Westbrook was the clear leader, playing a sensational first quarter in which he scored 21 points, tying a season-high for a quarter, while making 9-of-11 field goals in the period. Westbrook scored off his patented banked-in wing jumpers, high-arching shots at the elbow and soaring attacks to the rim after beating defenders off the bounce.

When Golden State attempted to neutralize him, he simply shifted gears to get his teammates involved, and he finished with nine assists and nine rebounds to go with 34 points on 13-for-26 shooting.

“Russell was terrific in the first quarter. It was one of those things where he just got going,” Donovan recalled. “He made some tough shots and he created some really good shots. He was able to really get downhill and get to the rim.”

“Russ is instant offense. He put us on his back and he established a no quite mentality, a no back down mentality,” George added. “Everybody followed suit. It’s our job as teammates to back him up.”

Westbrook empowered players like Alex Abrines, Jerami Grant and Huestis all night. Grant and Huestis made Stephen Curry have to work on defense, constantly posting him up to force him to fight on the inside when Curry switched onto them. Huestis scored six points on the interior, while Grant was incredibly productive, mostly on rolls to the rim when the Warriors defense got stretched. The wiry forward scored 16 points off the bench to fuel a 33-point effort by the bench.

“That’s part of my job to make sure everybody is comfortable and feeling good about themselves and their games,” Westbrook explained. “We need everybody to win games. Tonight those guys did a great job of stepping up.”

The most incredible sequence to witness was what Westbrook did with Abrines. Late in the third period, a brief stoppage allowed Westbrook the chance to pull his team into a huddle and draw up a play on his hand – playground style – to get Abrines a wide-open look. It didn’t go down, but it must have helped Abrines catch a rhythm, because as the Thunder slammed the door in the fourth quarter, the Spanish sharpshooter knocked down two threes to keep Golden State at bay for good.

“It’s just reading the game. You read the game and you see different things on the floor,” Westbrook noted. “My job is to see who is open and see who I can get in a matchup and see who I can take advantage of. That’s what we try to do, to take advantage of mismatches.”

The Thunder burst out to a 13-4 lead right off the opening tip in this one and responded to an 8-0 Warriors run with an 11-2 spurt of its own. After a 12-4 run to start the second quarter, Golden State never truly threatened. In the third quarter, where the Warriors have been prolific all season, the Thunder was dominant.

“We got stops when we didn’t have really good offensive possessions,” Donovan said. “Then we were able to kind of extend and push out the lead. With an explosive offensive team like them, you have to keep scoring.”

After the Thunder lead was cut to 13 with 9:31 to go in the period, Oklahoma City outscored Golden State 23-14 to close the period behind the sensational play of George, who scored a game-high 38 points on 11-of-23 shooting, including a 6-of-11 mark from the three-point line and a ferocious one-handed dunk over the top of Zaza Pachulia that pushed the Thunder’s lead back out to 20.

During the game Westbrook and George communicated about needing to stagger with one another in the absence of Anthony and Adams for large stretches. Westbrook finished the first and third quarters, while George started the second and fourth. Their offensive leadership helped carry the Thunder throughout, but it was the defensive pressure the entire team generated that allowed the Thunder to attempt 13 more field goals than the Warriors.

George was the catalyst, leading the Thunder to 14 steals and 25 forced turnovers, which led to 38 Thunder points. Golden State shot just 8-for-28 from the three-point line, so between the runouts the Oklahoma City got off Warriors misses and giveaways, a path to the paint was opened wide, and the Thunder carved it for 54 points. Once in the open floor, it was Westbrook who set up the actions, directed traffic and generate efficient and productive offensive rhythm.

“I’m a competitor. I compete. That’s just me being fearless and taking the challenge to try to do whatever it is to help my team,” George said. “We had to match the physicality as well as their pace. That was the key tonight.”

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After finishing his postgame interview, Westbrook scampered over to Grant, who was – no joke – playing with a yo-yo that he had just ordered online. The Thunder point guard asked to have a go, and of course he was incredibly deft with it because he’s talented at pretty much everything. He spun it down to the floor, walked the dog, and even danced a bit with it. Just like he did with the basketball for all four quarters tonight, Westbrook was in complete control, and flashing his vibrant smile all the way.

Highlights: Thunder at Warriors

By the Numbers

14 – Points for Steven Adams on 7-for-9 shooting, including 10 points after halftime as the Thunder fed him in the post as a change of pace

22-9 – Second chance points advantage for the Thunder on the night

72 – Combined points for Paul George and Russell Westbrook on the night, in addition to 14 rebounds, 12 assists and six steals

The Last Word

“Our guys gave great effort. There was great communication out there. They helped one another. They really sustained it for a really long period of time. That’s what we’re trying to do.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan


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