Missed Shots Stifle Relentless Westbrook Effort, Thunder Hustle – OKC 107, GSW 111

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

It was about time for one of these games to come down to the wire. All three previous matchups between the Thunder and Golden State Warriors this season had been blowouts, two in Oklahoma City’s favor. Tonight, the two fan bases finally got a back-and-forth epic game that came down to the little things: missed free throws, defensive coverages and second chances.

All three of those issues, along with a heaping of missed shots, eventually determined the final result, a 111-107 loss for the Thunder, who shot just 37.6 percent on the night including 9-of-38 (23.7 percent) from three-point range. Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club got high quality looks at the basket all night, they just wouldn’t drop.

“Our guys really battled and fought,” Donovan said. “The thing that was encouraging was that they continued to try to defend, even going through a rough shooting night. We gave ourselves a chance at the end.”

Watch: Thunder Highlights

After Russell Westbrook knocked down a jumper with 5:17 to go, making it 94-93 Golden State, the Warriors got five quick points on a Kevin Durant three-pointer that just barley curled inside the rim and in, and then a Damian Jones transition bucket to make it 99-93. Westbrook hit one of two free throws, part of a 28-of-37 (75.7 percent) night from the charity stripe for the Thunder, then found Paul George for a catch-and-shoot three to make it a two-point game again. Oklahoma City was unable to make it a one-possession game after that until just seconds remained.

Durant got two free throws, then the Thunder defense crashed over hard on Warriors drives, resulting in a tricky reverse layup and a backdoor lob dunk for the rookie center Jones, who played an unexpected 14 minutes. Two George free throws cut it to 107-103, then after Durant (9-of-25 from the field) missed a long jumper, the loose rebound squirted through a myriad of hands and ultimately out of bounds, giving Golden State another possession with just 32.3 seconds remaining.

Unstoppable.

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Westbrook wisely anticipated a pass in a trap-and-scramble situation, and forced a Durant turnover, leading to a Brewer layup. Unfortunately for the Thunder, just 20.6 seconds remained. After initial traps Oklahoma City was forced to foul, the Warriors knocked down all four free throws in the closing seconds. That kept the Thunder at bay, and the difference between the Thunder’s nine missed free throws and the Warriors three misses made a difference.

“It happens, guys miss free throws. We are missing our fair share right now,” said forward Carmelo Anthony. “Get back in the gym, shoot more, that’s all I can say.”

The Thunder jumped out to an eight-point lead in the first quarter, but the Warriors turned the tide in the second quarter behind some tough Durant jumpers. After Durant started 7-of-12 from the field, he finished just 2-of-13. Tighter defense, and an insistence to contest strongly at the three-point line, helped give the Thunder offense a chance to strike.

That’s where Westbrook came in. The Thunder All-Star point guard was electric in the third quarter, when the Thunder turned the game around. A 10-1 burst midway through the period behind four Carmelo Anthony free throws, two emphatic Westbrook coast-to-coast layups and a Corey Brewer driving layup to cut a 12-point Warriors lead down to just three.

“Playing faster, getting downhill, using our speed and our size,” Westbrook noted in regard to the run.

What ensued was a thrilling sequence as Westbrook responded to just about every Warriors basket, culminating with a stretch of nine straight points by the reigning NBA MVP, including a dribble-up three-pointer to give the Thunder its first lead since early in the second quarter at 82-81.

Westbrook went 7-of-10 in the third quarter for 17 points, and finished the game with 44 total on 15-of-26 shooting (plus 11-for-12 from the free throw line), to go with an incredible 16 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals.

Russell Westbrook Posts 44 Points, 16 Rebounds

“It’s a great feeling to just kind of be out there and just see him in that mode, in that gear,” Anthony said of Westbrook.

“He was great he took it to another level,” George added. “A level that those guys didn’t have an answer for.”

Still, it wasn’t enough for the Thunder to get the job done. Those defensive miscues and the late loose ball were tough to swallow, as was the Warriors insistence on denying Steven Adams and Jerami Grant any space on rolls to the rim. Attempts to get the ball to the two Thunder centers was thwarted by hands in the passing lane and a strategy to pack the paint.

That left outside shooting as the next best option for the Thunder, and unfortunately even if those shots were open, they didn’t find the bottom of the net. George and Anthony combined to shoot just 9-of-35 from the field, including 3-for-18 from three-point range. Recognizing Westbrook’s endless effort, both players took the onus on themselves to perform better moving forward.

“I take that on myself we got to do a better job at helping Russ,” George said. “If I make shots and I put that pressure on them, we win this game.”

“Those are shots we want,” Anthony noted. “I mean some of those shots are wide open that we’re missing. I think the shots that we’re taking, that we took tonight, were great looks; everybody had great looks. The ball just didn’t go in.”

Watch: Postgame Interviews

By the Numbers

20-8 – The Thunder’s advantage in second chance points thanks to 22 offensive rebounds

44 – Points for Russell Westbrook on just 26 shot attempts, in addition to 16 rebounds

46-14 – The Warriors’ advantage in bench scoring in the game

The Last Word

“As long as we’re good in this locker room, regardless of what anybody says outside of this locker room, it doesn’t really matter. As long as we’re good as a team, as a unit, as brothers. We have a great relationship on and off the floor. So that’s all that matters. Anything outside of this building, outside of this arena don’t really matter, don’t change anything that we’re doing.” – point guard Russell Westbrook

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