OAKLAND, Calif. — The championship rings of the Golden State Warriors glistened in the lights of Oracle Arena. To Steve Kerr, who jokingly predicted that a loss would be the consequence of being “too overly emotional” during a third quarter TNT interview, perhaps the light blinded everyone not named Steph Curry or Kevin Durant.
“We didn’t look much like ourselves,” Kerr said afterwards. “It’s not surprising either. We need a couple more weeks.”
Curry and Durant combined for 59 points on 20-of-41 shooting, including 5-of-14 from three, although, Durant contributed an 0-for-5 performance.
It was too much for the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder to overcome. Hampered by poor offense in the first half and abysmal paint defense, the Thunder could not string together enough consecutive possessions to secure the road upset.
Paul George’s first half looked a lot like his Game 6 performance in Salt Lake City last season. After picking up his third foul with 7:04 to go in the second quarter, George lost most of his aggression and played into what the Warriors wanted him to do on offense.
Six points on 1-of-8 shooting (0-for-5 from three) gave Thunder fans little hope that a comeback was possible. Dennis Schröder showed little optimism as well, while Steven Adams looked a step slow dealing with back stiffness.
Then Oklahoma City decided not to miss.
George exploded in the third quarter, sinking his first six shots, including two from deep. Schröder hit a three and played pesky defense to bring the Thunder back from a 10-point halftime deficit. The duo combined for 48 points in their first outing as teammates.
“I was really encouraged and pleased with the way we came out in the third quarter,” coach Billy Donovan said. “Last year at times it was a struggle for us.”
Credit to the Thunder for not allowing the Warriors to blow the game wide open in classic Golden State fashion. A 14-point lead in the second quarter would be the largest lead the Warriors would see. Possibly the most encouraging thing came late in the second quarter.
With 3:40 to go in the second quarter, Schröder was caught by the new interpretation of the clear-path foul on a Klay Thompson steal. After the free throws and ensuing Golden State possession, Oklahoma City trailed 52-39. All the signs were there for the flood gates to burst.
From that point, the Thunder went on a 22-9 run deep into the third quarter, eventually taking a three-point lead.
While the perimeter defense of Oklahoma City should be commended, it should also be noted that Warriors not named Steph Curry shot a combined 2-for-17 from deep. There were some contested shots, but Thompson’s 1-for-8 and Durant’s 0-for-5 were mainly the result of missing good looks.
“We played a solid game, nothing spectacular, we had a lot of mistakes,” Curry said after the game. “We understand the process of kind of building up.”
After George came back down to earth, the Thunder’s love for isolation shots and lack of ball movement caught up with them. In the clutch, Schröder air balled a three, turned the ball over as well as George, victimized by careless dribbling.
The 58 points in the paint by the Warriors are what will keep the Thunder from accepting the moral victory here. Adams, who was a game-time decision, had trouble dealing with the athletic bigs of Damian Jones and Kevon Looney, who combined for 22 points on 11-for-18 shooting.
The Thunder will enjoy two days off in California before returning to the floor to take on the LA Clippers in Los Angeles Friday night.