That wasn’t expected. Russell Westbrook dominated the second half and the Oklahoma City Thunder shocked the Golden State Warriors, 108-102, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals on Monday night in Oakland.
Westbrook had 27 points (24 of which came in the second half) and 12 assists, and Kevin Durant added 26 points and 10 rebounds as the Thunder came back from a 14-point second half deficit to shock the Warriors.
Stephen Curry had 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, and Klay Thompson added 25 points as the Warriors fell behind in a playoff series for the first time since last year’s NBA Finals, when they trailed the Cavaliers 2-1.
It was a shaky start for both teams as they tested the waters — both missing some early shots and turning the ball over uncharacteristically. The Warriors settled down and took advantage of six Thunder turnovers to take a 27-21 lead after one quarter.
Westbrook and Durant continued to be careless with the ball early in the second quarter, and the Warriors took advantage — they went on an 8-0 run to take a 13-point lead. The Thunder stars settled down eventually, though, and didn’t let the game get away from them. They fought back and pulled to within four, but the Warriors pulled away again when the Thunder were forced to go small with Steven Adams exhausted and Enes Kanter struggling defensively. Behind 19 points from Thompson and another ridiculous shot from Curry at the buzzer, the Warriors led 60-47 at the half.
The Thunder fought their way back into the game by giving the ball to Westbrook and letting him take care of the game. He scored 19 in the third as the Thunder turned the game into a half-court contest. They took the pep out of the Warriors and worked their way back into the game, trailing 88-85 at the end of three.
The Thunder continued to pour it on in the fourth and had a 101-93 lead with just under 5:00 to play. Westbrook was controlling the game as he had in the third. But then Curry hit a three to cut the lead to five, and a Green layup pulled them to within three with 3:47 left. Neither team scored over the next 90 seconds, until Harrison Barnes nailed a bucket to pull the Warriors within one.
Steven Adams made two free throws on the following possession, and Kevin Durant nailed a dagger to give the Thunder a five-point lead with 30.7 seconds left. Westbrook got away with a traveling violation after an Andre Iguodala layup, and the Thunder made their free throws down the stretch to hold on for the road win.
Game 2 is on Wednesday night in Oakland.
Here are three things we learned from Game 1:
When the Thunder control the tempo, they control the court
The Thunder turned the ball over 10 times in the first half. Some were forced by the Warriors — who play tough defense — but part of it was the Thunder being careless with the ball. Durant and Westbrook both threw a few balls away, and the Warriors took advantage — just like they always do. The Thunder can play with the Warriors, but they must be at their best. When the Thunder turned the game into a battle of half-court offenses, they outplayed the Warriors. They beat the Spurs by forcing San Antonio into a contest of isolation basketball. They must control the tempo; when they did in the second half, it was a completely different ball game.
The Lineup of Death is still pretty dang fun
The Thunder had chipped away at a 13-point deficit in the second quarter and trailed by only four when the Warriors brought in their unstoppable lineup of Thompson, Curry, Barnes, Igoudala and Green. The Thunder tried to match them. It was a bad idea. The Warriors ended the quarter on a 14-5 run to take that 13-point lead back. The Thunder offense is incredible, but it can’t hang with the lineup that has yet to be controlled — by any NBA team.
This is going to be fun
If Game 1 was a preview of what’s to come, this is going to be one heck of a series. The Warriors had plenty of opportunities to put the Thunder away through the first three quarters of the game, but the Thunder always had an answer. Both teams were sloppy at times and both played superbly at times — it was everything you hope for in an NBA Playoff game. The juxtaposition of the Warriors trying to run going up against the Thunder controlling the tempo with their half-court sets and methodical, high-scoring offense is going to be a wonderful chess match. Good thing we’ve got at least three more games to go — hopefully even more.
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