By now we are all familiar with the terror that Russell Westbrook can wreak on a basketball court. There is no player in the league that can match his sheer athleticism. His ability to get to the basket on any given possession is both his greatest strength and weakness. There are times when Westbrook moves so fast that his brain is incapable of making the right decision mid-drive, leading to turnovers and bad shots. He can sometimes look like an X-Men character who is just coming to terms with his superpowers. Then there are moments like last night's 108-102 win over the Warriors in which Russell can become a world beater.
The Thunder looked flat in the first half against Golden State. Their offense was turning the ball over too often, leading to easy looks for the Warriors. Kevin Durant was struggling to find his shot. Their defense was really struggling to find its rhythm, allowing Klay Thompson to go off for 17 in the first two periods. When Enes Kanter first came off the bench the Warriors attacked him so viciously on every offensive possession that Billy Donovan quickly pulled him. The half ended with Curry nailing a last second three point shot giving the champs a 13 point lead.
The third quarter belonged to Westbrook, who at one point scored 17 straight points for the Thunder, single handedly getting them back into the game. He was all over the court, grabbing three steals, running the fast break to perfection, and even hitting a couple of threes. The Thunder’s defense really picked up in the second half and Westbrook seemed to have his hand on every loose ball. The Warriors are usually the masters of taking advantage of ragged play, but last night Westbrook seemed to get better with every Golden State turnover.
The Thunder outscored the Warriors by 19 points in the second half. Golden State tried a lot of different lineups against the bigs of OKC, but even their vaunted death lineup was not enough to get the win. I have to give Billy Donovan a lot of credit for not trying to go small when the Warriors did. He stuck to his guns and the size advantage proved to be a major deciding factor in the game.
Steven Adams finished the game with 16 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks. He lead all players with a +19 in plus/minus. There has been no bigger revelation in these Playoffs than the continued improvement of the big New Zealander. It’s fun watching him play against Andrew Bogut, because Adams so resembles a younger version of his opponent. For years people thought that Ibaka would be key third player in a Thunder championship run, but it’s clear now that Adams is that third guy.
Turnovers and rebounds were the deciding factor in the Oklahoma City’s win. They were able to tighten up their own play in the second half and force 14 Golden State turnovers to overcome the early deficit. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant hit big shots late holding off any would-be comeback. They also got an assist from the refs, who blew a last minute travel call that would have given the Warriors the ball back late in the game when they were only down three.
If there is one thing the Westbrook/Durant era has taught us, it’s that they are not going down without a fight. The fact that they won the first game of this series was not particularly surprising, but roaring back the way they did in the second half of this game was a thrill to watch. Don’t expect the Warriors to be too shaken by the loss. A lot of their turnovers came off of lazy passess. They played like a team who has yet to see an elite level defense in these playoffs. They will make the necessary adjustments and will more likely than not play a much better game two. I would not be surprised if the Warriors play a little bit bigger from here on out. I don’t think they can rely on Draymond Green to play big minutes at center when Steven Adams, Ibaka, and/or Enes kanter are out there. I also expect the Warriors bench to play much better than it did in game one, but if they don’t start outperforming the Thunder’s second unit then this series will go a lot differently than most people predicted.
Russell Westbrook landed the first big punch of this series. His second half tirade was typical Russ, hitting shots that he probably shouldn’t have taken and creating chaos in a game that needed to be shaken up. There’s a parallel universe in which Westbrook misses those three’s and get’s burnt on a couple of the steals he gambled on and the Thunder lose by 20. That’s the fun in watching this guy play, he gives the game an air of unpredictability. Against a team that feels as inevitable as Golden State, Westbrook is Weapon X.