Westbrook Making the Warriors Suffer

Throw out all those regular season stats that don’t matter anymore. The Thunder losing all three games to the Warriors. The Thunder not able to keep fourth quarter leads. Russell Westbrook erratic and reckless and coming in a distant second to Steph Curry. Kevin Durant efficient when the game is on the line. The Warriors nearly perfect at Oracle.

Those repetitive talking points don’t matter when the conference finals have turned on a dime and the Oklahoma City Thunder took a game on the Warriors home floor by going big and winning the toughness battle on the inside and winning the turnover battle and winning the fourth quarter and making Steph Curry look ordinary down the stretch. Winning in the playoffs is all about the details, and even though the Thunder weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, they did what they had to do and won a game on the road for home court.

Does it mean the Thunder are in the driver’s seat? No. They lost a home game to the Spurs and came back to win the series. Good teams handle adversity and push their game up a notch. But the Thunder have a clear advantage that was played out in game one.

Actually they have two advantages: Steven Adams. Russell Westbrook.

Adams was dominant in the middle, grabbing 12 boards. The New Zealander outplayed Australian Andrew Bogut, relentless in every moment he was on the floor. Contrary to the analytics crowd romanticizing the details, the real measure of importance in a NBA game is impact. Binary deconstruction has its gray areas, like effort and willfulness and toughness.

Adams is a workhouse on the floor. He hustles, he pushes, he shoves, he grabs. His offensive repertoire is pretty limited but when he was asked to make two key free throws, he did.

Monday Night in Oakland Points Rebounds Defensive FG% +/-
Steven Adams 16 12 33.3% +19
Andrew Bogut 0 3 80.0 -6

Russell Westbrook made everyone forget Steph Curry was on the floor. Westbrook had that magical willfulness in the second half, 24 points, 6-13 as he willed his team forward out of necessity because his partner in crime, Kevin Durant, was pretty awful, missing open looks and easy shots, until that last bucket with 30 seconds left and Durant drained a jumper to give the Thunder a 5 point lead.

But this win was all Westbrook and that third quarter. Westbrook steal. Westbrook assist. Westbrook assist. Westbrook three. Westbrook three. Westbrook pullup. Westbrook steal. Westbrook dunk. Westbrook rebound. Westbrook assist. Westbrook steal. Westbrook rebound. Westbrook layup. 19 points in the quarter, 3 steals, 3 assists, 2 rebounds.

MVP? Points 3-Point % Contested Shot % Free Throw Attempts +/-
Russell Westbrook 27 50.0% 33.3% 14 +8
Steph Curry 26 42.9% 45.5% 2 -6

It led to a fourth quarter 3 point deficit after the Thunder put 38 points on the board in the third. Durant, uncharacteristically, was awful, 0-7 down the stretch until a pullup with half a minute left. It was what no one expected in Oakland.

The conventional wisdom was a close game until Curry, the MVP, would pull it out.

Curry had 3 points in the 4th quarter and 7 turnovers in the game. Westbrook had 7 steals. And 12 assists. And 7 rebounds. and 27 points.

Despite how it looked on paper pre-game, the defending champions and their small ball and weak rebounding effort looked very human and ordinary. And Russell Westbrook looked like a MVP.

On Wednesday night, Game 2 will find the defending champions in a pressure packed game that will define what happens next. Lose and the 73 win season will be a nice little asterisk on a dream that could not match the hype. Win and this series will be as unpredictable as many imagined it would be.

 

photo via llananba