The sequel rarely lives up to the original, but the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder gave fans an entertaining show five days after Stephen Curry hit the shot of the NBA season with a buzzer-beating heave from near half-court to beat Kevin Durant's squad.
The Warriors again topped the Thunder on Thursday, this time by a final of 121-106. The Thunder held a lead entering the fourth quarter but fell apart down the stretch as the Warriors outscored them 39-23 in the last 12 minutes.
Golden State has history on its mind and is now 55-5 overall and undefeated at Oracle Arena. The defending champions are chasing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' all-time mark of 72 wins in a season, but they joined Michael Jordan's old squad in the record book Thursday:
Warriors take down Thunder 121-106 to tie the longest home win streak in NBA history pic.twitter.com/4d0p2nP7Lw— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 4, 2016
Curry led the way with 33 points, but he was one of six Warriors to score in double figures. Fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson added 21, while Marreese Speights (10 points and four rebounds) and Shaun Livingston (11 points, eight assists and three steals) provided critical sparks off the bench.
As for the Thunder, Durant just missed a triple-double with 32 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, but he turned the ball over nine times. Russell Westbrook also had a solid stat line with 22 points, seven assists and six boards, but he was 8-of-24 from the field and 1-of-8 from three-point range.
Writer Jared Dubin was not ready to look at Thursday's game as a sign of bigger problems with Westbrook's game:
This game's really gonna bring the Westbrook shot selection convo back, huh? Have ppl not watched him this year? He's from another planet.— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) March 4, 2016
It should also be noted that 20% of Westbrook's threes come in the last 4 seconds of the shot clock or when it's off bc he's the bailout guy— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) March 4, 2016
While the basketball world is starting to run out of adjectives to describe what this incredible Warriors squad is doing, Oklahoma City is 2-6 in its last eight contests and lost all three matchups against Golden State this season. That is not encouraging for the Thunder's postseason chances in the Western Conference.
Despite the final score, the two teams went back and forth in a first quarter that featured seven lead changes and four ties, and Golden State eventually emerged with a 29-28 lead after the initial 12 minutes. While the quality of the quarter provided plenty of entertainment, fans got what they wanted when Curry and Durant went one-on-one early in the contest:
Ethan Strauss of ESPN.com reacted to the moment:
I think Curry Vined Durant, as the kids say— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) March 4, 2016
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller described why the Warriors are appointment viewing:
Steph Curry makes me want to watch basketball again. The last player to do that was MJ— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 4, 2016
The Warriors went on a small run early in the second quarter, and Speights was hitting from three-point range, much to the bench's amusement:
However, Oklahoma City answered with a spurt of its own to tie the game at 44-44, and Nate Duncan of The Cauldron pointed out that Golden State's defense was part of the problem for the home team:
Warriors transition D not too great the last few mins. Some sulking after TOs/missed layups.— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) March 4, 2016
Defense was optional for both sides for the rest of the first half, and Golden State took a 63-61 lead into the locker room. To be fair, it is nearly impossible to guard the defending MVP when he is drilling three-pointers from almost across the San Francisco Bay:
Golden State's offense went cold in the early stages of the second half, and the Thunder built an 80-71 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle noted Oklahoma City's dominance on the glass was a key factor:
Warriors outrebounded 37-23.— Ann Killion (@annkillion) March 4, 2016
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News highlighted the unusual struggles by Golden State's starters as the Thunder took an 80-73 lead into a timeout:
Curry and Barnes are both currently -10, Bogut -7 and Draymond and Klay both -6.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) March 4, 2016
Golden State battled back to close the gap to 83-82 by the end of the third quarter, and Speights' impression of a quarterback helped in the process:
While the Thunder were still clinging to a lead at the start of the fourth quarter, Westbrook was struggling from the field. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman reacted to the guard's shooting woes:
This is the type of occasional clunker Russ used to regularly fight through and floor us. He's gotten so good we never see them anymore.— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) March 4, 2016
Justin Russo of Warriors World added some context to Westbrook's shooting:
The only players worse than Westbrook from beyond the arc are Ron Harper, Josh Smith, and Charles Barkley. That's the company he is in.— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) March 4, 2016
With Westbrook struggling, Oklahoma City couldn't hold on to its tenuous lead in the early stages of the fourth quarter. Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors described the proceedings:
An 18-3 run fueled by Mo Speights pretty much explains exactly why the Warriors are nearly unbeatable.— Tim Shoemaker (@TimShoemaker) March 4, 2016
It wasn't just Speights, as Livingston and Harrison Barnes got in on the action, as illustrated by NBA on TNT:
The two teams traded baskets for a stretch, and Golden State took a 101-97 lead into a timeout with less than five minutes remaining. SB Nation NBA summarized everyone's thoughts:
Why isn't every game Warriors-Thunder— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) March 4, 2016
The Thunder continued to hang in, but Curry converted an and-1 with 4:16 left to push the Warriors' advantage to 106-97. Royce Young of ESPN.com captured the crippling sequence for Oklahoma City:
Perfect sequence to explain the Thunder: Completely avoidable turnover, bad transition defense, no blockout on Curry, then an and-1.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) March 4, 2016
From there, the Warriors did what the Warriors do, and things "escalated quickly," as NBA on TNT noted:
That escalated quickly... https://t.co/YYLRLxv5uB— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) March 4, 2016
Curry drilled a step-back three with 2:16 left to put Golden State up 114-100 and ice the game. He also seemed to be toying with the defense at the end:
Just like that, Golden State moved a step closer to the all-time wins record.
The Warriors have the Bulls' mark within their sights, and they will face the Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, New Orleans Pelicans and New York Knicks in their next seven games.
Only Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are above .500 in that group, and the Lakers and Suns are the two worst teams in the Western Conference. If Golden State is going to etch its name in the history books, it will need to rack up wins in that span since it still has to play the 52-9 San Antonio Spurs three more times in a difficult finishing stretch.
The Thunder need to find a way to stop the bleeding, and they'll face the Los Angeles Clippers, Spurs and Trail Blazers within their next five games. While that is a daunting proposition, they will play the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves in that stretch as well.
At least Durant and Westbrook won't have to worry about facing Curry and the Warriors again unless they meet in the playoffs.
While most of the focus was on the game and record-tying 44th straight home win for the Warriors, Kawakami did ask Golden State coach Steve Kerr what he was talking about with Durant during a sideline interaction between the two. Kerr said it was “just normal conversation with people standing near each other.”
Any interaction between the two is at least likely to raise eyebrows since there were rumors earlier in the season from The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski during an appearance on The Big Lead with Jason McIntyre (via Adrian Hasenmayer of FoxSports.com) that Durant could eventually join the Warriors in free agency.
Kerr was more eager to talk about his team’s accomplishments, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Fifty games over .500. I mean, it’s crazy. You can’t even dream this stuff up, but it’s been that kind of season for us.”
He also remarked on the home winning streak, per Simmons: “We take great pride in protecting our home floor. We have an amazing crowd. It’s a remarkable streak.”
Leandro Barbosa was also pleased with his team’s ability to defend its home court:
Even with the recent struggles, the Thunder were likely more concerned about Westbrook, who appeared to hurt his thumb in the game. Fortunately for Oklahoma City, the point guard said, “it’s all right,” when asked about it, per Young.
At least Oklahoma City can take solace in that because its recent play has been anything but all right.