Thunder’s Aggression Outdone
by Warriors Shot-Making
Game Recap: Thunder 97, Warriors 118
Defending Stephen Curry and the Warriors from behind the 3-point line is always a challenge, and on Thursday the Thunder weren’t quite able to get solid enough contests as Golden State hit 19 shots from behind the arc.
All season long the Thunder has set its sights at preparing its players for night-to-night NBA challenges by stacking itself up against the best of the best. More often than not for a young team, those types of matchups will come with growing pains. That was the case on Thursday night in San Francisco as the Thunder dropped one to the Warriors, a team that has been battling through injuries all season but is on the cusp of securing a spot in the playoff play-in games.
With second year stopper Lu Dort tasked with defending two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry, the Thunder aimed to get a look at how those two would work against one another, strength against strength. Unfortunately for Dort, a flurry of quick fouls took him out of the game in the first half and tripped up any momentum he was building after some strong defensive stops. Dort racked up four fouls in the first half alone and Curry was able to play loosely, ripping off 34 points on 6-of-13 shooting from 3.
“It's the first time (Dort) has guarded Curry. You develop a feel for really good players,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “That’s obviously a different preparation than any other player in the league.”
Of course, as with any defensive assignment, Curry wasn’t Dort’s responsibility alone. Daigneault has been preaching a five-man defensive unit that solves problems with everyone on the floor, not individuals. While the Thunder hung as tough as it could against the Warriors given a distinct lack of rhythm, Head Coach Mark Daigneault will have plenty for the team to assess before facing off against Golden State in Saturday’s rematch.
“Against a team like Golden State with a player like Curry, you want to make the role players beat you and tonight we got a little loose on Curry, but you’ve got to credit those guys,” said Daigneault. “Mulder made shots, Toscano was really good. Green, obviously is beyond a role player but was really good facilitating. We made them go deep into possessions and they made the right plays. They're a good team, but there's some stuff that we can clean up for sure and we'll continue to do so."
The Warriors got the lead early but the Thunder threatened behind 10 of Théo Maledon’s 15 points coming in the first quarter and 12 of Ty Jerome’s career-high-tying 23 points coming in the second quarter. The Thunder’s guards stayed aggressive against the Warriors backcourt to try and make them take as much as they gave on offense, but this one was a runaway victory for Golden State in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder put pressure on Golden State mid-way through the third quarter with a 9-2 burst to make it just a 68-60 Warriors lead, but an unfortunate play in the closing seconds of the period gave Golden State all the momentum heading into the final frame. As Curry drove through the lane he kicked out to Mychal Mulder in the left corner for one of his seven made threes. Curry then stopped in his tracks, baiting an off-the-ball foul on Thunder rookie Josh Hall, right as Mulder’s 3-pointer went up in the air. Curry hit the free throw, then scored again to close out the quarter on a 6-0 Warriors run.
Play of the Game
Staying in attack mode the way he has since returning from a shoulder injury, Darius Bazley drove hard to the middle of the floor, felt out the defense and spun hard towards his right hand. As he went up his layup was disrupted, but Bazley stayed with it and slapped the ball into the basket off the glass, all while getting fouled. Bazley finished the game with 22 points, including four makes from 3 and four made free throws.
“He’s really strong and athletic. He’s strong going left too,” Jerome said of Bazley. “People anticipate it and he’s able to spin off it. I told him that is his signature move.”
Stat of the Night10
Turnovers for the Thunder in the game, continuing a trend of the Thunder doing an excellent job protecting the ball in recent games. Since the All-Star Break, turnovers had been an issue for the Thunder, as it averaged about 18 per night. The Thunder now has back-to-back games with just 10 turnovers, showing an impressive ability to adapt on the fly and learn from mistakes.
“One of the hardest things I've mentioned this I think before is just the, the balance between aggressiveness and confidence and then functionality and ball security,” said Daigneault. “We've got a lot of players that are trying to find that balance.”
Quotes of the Night
“The main thing is we just got to get back in transition on defense, do a better job and tighten up a couple of things.”
“Even when you throw a really good game at them, they're still really hard to guard, and I thought we did a really good job tonight, it gives us a lot to work with. We'll come in tomorrow, we'll get some work in and try to carry it over for that game against them on Saturday.”
The Thunder will stick around in San Francisco for another couple days to take on the Warriors again on Saturday evening, finishing up the season series against Golden State. After that the Thunder will move on to two games in Sacramento against the Kings.