Last season, watching the Thunder play the Warriors was an exercise in frustration, futility, and hopelessness. It was like tearing and picking at a hangnail…only to rip it off and realize that the only thing you accomplished was hurting yourself.
From a talent perspective, OKC had scratch-off ticket’s chance at winning against the Warriors last year: yeah, it could happen, but be realistic. I also could win $1 million, but I’m not holding my breath over it.
The Thunder, still utilizing the same roster that was built around a player who had defected, and without the benefit of a full off-season to retool, looked like they belonged in a different, inferior league than the Warriors. The team from Oakland waxed Oklahoma City all four times they played last season, winning by an average margin of nearly 20 points. It was a bloodbath.
But this season — aided by Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and a new type of feeling — the Thunder have returned the favor, so to speak, at least through two game against the reigning NBA champs.
I think Thunder fans would have been satisfied with simply being competitive in games against the Warriors. With these two blowout victories, though, they’re verging on getting spoiled.
And, as difficult as it is to do in life, Thunder fans need to savor the moment. Remember: the plot changes fast in the NBA. You’ve got to relish the highs, because the lows are inevitable.
Last night, George’s play was incredible on both ends of the floor, taking it upon himself to be Kevin Durant’s personal tormentor in the Thunder’s 125-105 victory over the Warriors. He looked more than comfortable as the Robin to Westbrook’s Batman, a metaphor TNT’s Reggie Miller couldn’t resist during the broadcast. George, who scored a game-high 38 points, helped set the tone against the Dubs.
“[The Warriors are] one of the best teams in movement, in player movement, in ball movement,” George said to reporters after the game. “So we had to match the physicality as well as their pace. I thought that was the key tonight. Our motor was ready for that intensity.”
Speaking of motor: Westbrook doesn’t always need help in setting the tone, but it helps when options one and two are working in tandem to do so — everyone else just falls in line. George was phenomenal, but it was Westbrook’s play that set the tone from the jump.
Westbrook scored 21 of his 34 points in the first quarter, aggressively insisting his way to the bucket and getting to his favorite spots on the floor at will. The Thunder had been in a tailspin since losing all-NBA defender Andre Roberson, and Westbrook’s performance was, perhaps, just the kind of shot in the arm his teammates needed to be shocked back to reality.
“He put us on his back and established a no-quit mentality, a no-back-down mentality, and everybody just followed suit,” George said about Westbrook.” We have all followed suit in that. It’s our job as teammates to back him up and we did that tonight.”
The Thunder scored 42 points in the first quarter (“That was the game right there,” Durant said about the period) and never looked back. It turned out that Carmelo Anthony, who left the game after just six minutes with an ankle sprain, was hardly necessary.
Props must be given too to the Thunder’s perimeter defense, which held arguably the greatest shooting team of all time to eight of their 28 attempts from deep. After allowing the Pelicans and Lakers to shoot 45% plus in two-straight games, it was an encouraging sign for what’s been a flagging defense.
This game did nothing to discredit the narrative that the Thunder play to the level of their competition. Indeed, it only strengthened that storyline. The fact remains that there are still faults in the foundation; the loss of Andre Roberson simply exposed those cracks for the world to see.
But the fact also remains that the Thunder have twice now scaled a mountain that they hadn’t since Kevin Durant decided to wear different shades of yellow and blue.
Will the outcome be different in a playoff series? A level-headed, unbiased party would probably pick the Warriors 10 out of 10 times. It doesn’t mean that the Thunder don’t have a chance. Quite the contrary, actually. But perspective is necessary: this Warriors team will be judged by history as one of the greatest teams of all-time.
But that’s not now. There will be plenty of teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing should that moment come. For now, I’d advise Thunder fans to enjoy the now. You never know when you’ll get a chance to do so again.
And you know what? It feels — and should feel — pretty damn good. For the moment, I’ll take it.