After losing game one of the Western Conference Finals there was much talk about what was wrong with the Warriors. Golden State played sloppy basketball in the second half, turning the ball over too often, giving up too many offensive rebounds and playing a step behind defense. Steve Kerr was adamant that his team would clean up their mistakes and be fine in game two - and they were. The Warriors won 118-91, in a game that was decided halfway through the third quarter.
The playoffs are all about match-ups and adjustments. Last night Stephen Curry made the adjustment of making shots and not turning the ball over, especially when he scored 15 straight points in a two minute stretch during the third quarter. These kinds of scoring outbursts are game breaking, and I know we've all seen this a dozen times before this season but this one is all the more special because of the circumstances. If the Warriors go on to win this series we will all look back to this two minute stretch as a deciding moment in the series.
After the game Kevin Durant aptly described what makes guarding Curry so infuriating for opponents.
"He makes bad shots," Durant said. "You know, he makes those shots. And sometimes you gotta just, you know, put a hand up and contest, and you know, when you pick-and-roll, try to put a couple bodies on him. But he made some tough ones, you know, and then we turned the ball over and he got a few in transition, too, so...
That sums things up pretty well. Curry makes bad shots, and those shots create easier shots for his teammates and open up driving lines for himself. Those shots turn a close game into a blowout in the blink of an eye, and allow the Warriors Starters to rest in fourth quarters. That's why he is the MVP.
After a scorching hot first half, Kevin Durant was a mess in the second half. This is the second straight game where Durant performed a vanishing act after the half. Westbrook's brilliance was enough to sustain the Thunder in game one, but with Curry lighting up the scoreboard like a pinball wizard, OKC needed KD to show up.
It's not just that Durant is missing shots, he's making poor decisions in the flow of the offense. For as great as the slim reaper can be, when he is off he is really off. It affects the rest of the team when your best player is lighting you up on national TV.
This is a good time to remember just how much pressure the top players in the NBA are under on a regular basis. Most of us will never face the same kind of on-job scrutiny that KD has to on a nearly nightly basis. I don't know about you guys, but I've gone off the handle on teammates in a pickup game before, let alone the biggest series of a franchise's history. I'm sure Stephen Curry has inspired more than his share of curing out of his opponents before.
The Warriors game plan against Durant and Westbrook was to throw as many defenders their way as possible. While Curry was doing his thing on offense, the Warriors defense was shutting down the Thunders stars to just 3-8 shooting in the second half. So much is made of the Warriors league leading offense, but they also have the best defensive rating of the teams remaining. So before people get too carried away with the "what's wrong with Durant and Westbrook" pieces, let's remember that they are playing against an elite defense.
As the series moves to game three in Oklahoma City the burden is put back on Billy Donovan and the Thunder to figure things out. There are no great answers to stopping Curry when he is making 28 footers, but they have to find a way to get their own superstars better looks if they want to be able to keep up with the MVP when he goes on one of his scoring binges. Game one proved that the Thunder can push around the smaller Warriors, but they have to find ways to keep Kanter on the floor without getting completely decimated on defense. After two games we are left right back where we started, with two elite teams still feeling each other out. The Warriors have seemed to find some adjustments that work, now we wait to see if the Thunder can find answers of their own.