OAKLAND – All Thanksgiving week long, the Thunder has been handed circumstances outside of its control and handled them with grace. You could have forgiven this group of guys if three in-game injuries, including a scary one to Hamidou Diallo, would have left everybody rattled.
Instead the Thunder kept rolling on, as it had done in the absence of Russell Westbrook and Terrance Ferguson as they attended to the births of their daughters, and the illnesses to Alex Abrines and Nerlens Noel. With a deliberate, focused and consistent effort for 48 minutes, the Thunder trounced the Warriors 123-95 to head into the Thanksgiving break with an 11-6 record.
“It was just sticking to our game plan,” said forward Paul George, stoically. “We have a pretty focused group. Regardless of who goes down, the next man is ready and comes in and helps in a big way. We rely on everybody.”
“Whatever is going wrong, whatever is going sideways, we come together and figure out a way to get it done,” George continued.
It was a defensive struggle to start the night, with both teams combining for 3-for-15 shooting to open the night. Over the first six minutes, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s group set the tone by forcing the Warriors into 4-for-12 shooting and 0-for-5 marksmanship from three in the opening 6 minutes. As the first quarter unfolded, the Thunder took control thanks to some playmaking from Paul George who picked up three quick assists as the Thunder took a 25-18 lead just after the quarter break.
Golden State’s Klay Thompson got hot and ripped off a flurry of jumpers to give the Warriors a brief two-point lead, but behind 10 straight points from guard Dennis Schröder as an answer. The Thunder used a commanding 23-6 scoring burst over a five-minute span to take the lead for good.
“It was good that we kept the pace, we kept the tempo up and we kept attacking,” added George. “We did a great job of just being physical, being alert.”
Defensively the Thunder continued to force Golden State into one shot possessions before flowing into offense on the other end to play through Schröder (season-high 32 points) as a driver and Steven Adams (20 points, 11 rebounds) in the post to generate high-efficiency looks. In the second quarter alone, the Thunder shot 50 percent and racked up 9 of its 29 assists, with just 1 turnover.
“Just making the right play. Simple as that. Being able to find open guys and get them in scoring position,” said Russell Westbrook. “You never know who is going to do it. It opens the floor for everybody and it’s a good way to attack.”
“We were moving the ball. We were unselfish tonight, just playing with pace on the offensive end.”
For the game the Thunder registered only 10 turnovers total, outscoring the Warriors 24-10 in points off giveaways. Early in the third quarter some giveaways and loose defensive possessions allowed a 13-2 Warriors burst to make it just a four-point game, but Paul George (25 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists) buried a transition three and Schröder added two more of his career-high five triples on the night to regain a firm grip.
“It felt great tonight,” said Schröder. “My teammates got me. They found me and I’m glad I hit those shots.”
In the fourth again the Warriors charged back to within four points at 89-85, but Schröder took over again, first lobbing one up to Nerlens Noel, who left at one point to get five stitches near his eye. Schröder then hit a driving runner before nailing a three-pointer to give the Thunder a double-digit lead again, for good. But there was still more drama and uncertainty remaining.
After losing Terrance Ferguson to a tough-looking ankle sprain, Hamidou Diallo started the second half for the Thunder and once again the rookie showed some brilliant flashes, like when he helped over to block a Kevin Durant jump shot, leading to a fast break where Paul George flushed home a two-handed reverse dunk.
With 7:17 left in regulation, Diallo rose up to contest for a rebound, and his left leg got trapped under him as he landed in a heap with Warriors forward Jonas Jerebko. It was a startling scene as Thunder players prayed and talked Diallo through getting on a stretcher, but after the game good news arrived. A Thunder spokesperson said that Warriors doctors in Oracle Arena were able to rule out any serious lower body injuries to Diallo, which emitted a massive wave of relief in the postgame locker room.
“We’re a family here,” said Westbrook. “We gotta have our brother’s back and that’s what we’re going to do.”
”Just be there for comfort and all that,” added Adams, when asked about how the team dealt with the injuries. “That’s pretty much it, try not to dwell on it. Obviously, we’ll see them after the game and support them through it and whatnot.”
There was still plenty of game to be played after the injury, but the Thunder stayed expertly locked in. Right out of the break, Russell Westbrook drove and dished to Jerami Grant for a corner three-pointer, then got a banked-in jump shot to drop before the Thunder point guard put the finishing touches on his first triple-double of the season, an 11-point, 13-assist, 11-rebound performance where he pressed the gas when necessary but mostly got the Thunder into positions to score effectively.
“My job is to see the game, read the game. The game will tell you what you need to do,” said Westbrook. “As a point guard my job is to facilitate and have control of the game.”
For the game, the Thunder shot 48.1 percent, including 13-of-35 (37.1 percent) from the three-point arc while outscoring the Warriors 66-30 in the paint, 53-24 in bench points, 16-8 in second chance points and 24-16 in fast break points. That domination was in part caused by the Thunder taking 23 more field goal attempts than the Warriors, and also forcing the Warriors into non-paint two-point jumpers on 24 of their 83 shot attempts. When length, size, athleticism, discipline and focus come together, the results can be as sweet as pumpkin pie.
“It’s a team effort. It’s a team sport. We did everything as a team tonight,” said Schröder.
Highlights: Thunder 123, Warriors 95 - 11/21