Warriors Dispel Any Notion They're Slipping with Statement Win over Thunder

Ric Bucher@@RicBucherNBA Senior WriterFebruary 25, 2018

Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green, right, celebrates after dunking in front of Oklahoma City Thunder's Paul George, left, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Their focus was too blurred. Their bench was too thin. Their bellies were too full.

If that was your takeaway from how the defending champion Golden State Warriors played going into the All-Star break, know that the Warriors agreed with you. And if you thought that maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder were the team to exploit all that, well, there were some within the Warriors organization pondering the same possibility.

If you thought that any of that was a permanent condition, however, that's where you're on your own.

Playing in prime time against the lone team they hadn't beaten this season, one that torched them in their first two meetings, the Warriors turned the tables on the Thunder with a 112-80 win that was effectively over after three quarters, thanks to a 14-0 run to close the third. It was a mere 18 days ago in the same Oracle Arena that the Thunder steamrolled Golden State from the start, building a 12-point first-quarter lead and never looking back in a 125-105 win.

"We know what we're capable of," said small forward Andre Iguodala, who led a Warriors bench that outscored their counterparts 40-27, out-rebounded them 25-10 and out-assisted them 18-3. "But when you go through the motions and still win, you can get lazy. It was good for us to be in a position of vulnerability. We talked about it going into the break. We needed to get back to who we are. But we can't do it for two games and then get bored again. We have to keep building on it now."

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Andre Iguodala #9 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 24, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloa
Noah Graham/Getty Images

The lasting image from that Feb. 6 loss was Draymond Green with a bloody mouth and getting T'ed up for complaining about the abuse. The Warriors decided to initiate the physicality this time. Green picked up another T—his 15th, one short of earning a league-mandated one-game suspension—as did Kevin Durant (his 12th), but these were of a different nature. Green was T'ed up for disputing a foul called after stopping a Jerami Grant shot at the rim; Durant received his for squaring off with Carmelo Anthony after the latter shoved him.

"Teams think they can be physical with us," Iguodala said. "That's their strategy—be physical with us, knock us off our game. (The Thunder) have been beating us up for a while. We're usually reactive. Tonight we did a good job of hitting first and they were like, ‘What is this?'"

The increased intensity resulted in Oklahoma City shooting 33.0 percent overall, 26.5 percent from three-point range. No one was impacted more than Paul George, who finished with five points on 1-of-14 shooting, his second-lowest scoring night of the season. This, after a stretch of seven games in which he'd scored 25 or more.

"Early on shots didn't fall at all," Green said. "But when you play defense like that, you give yourself a chance."

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors fouls Jerami Grant #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder while attempting to block the shot at ORACLE Arena on February 24, 2018 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackn
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Iguodala also dispelled growing whispers that maybe Father Time was tugging on his collar with his best plus-minus of the season (plus-29) fueled by the kind of all-around performance (six rebounds, seven assists, seven points) that has been his specialty as a leader off the bench. For at least one night, Nick Young quieted similar whispers about his acquisition being a bad investment with 16 points, including hitting four of five three-pointers.

After weeks in which coach Steve Kerr seemed to be working with a dead keyboard, every button he pushed on Saturday provided the desired result—including having JaVale McGee make his second consecutive start.

It is part of McGee's standard routine to wait at the scorer's table and greet each starter with a personalized handshake before they head to center court. The only difference Saturday night was that instead of then heading to the far end of the bench, he walked onto the floor with them for the tipoff.

The Warriors wasted no time using JaVale to put the Oracle Arena crowd into overdrive. McGee faked setting a screen on the ball for Steph Curry, cut to the wing to set a true screen for Klay Thompson and then swooped to the basket to snatch and smash a lob from Curry. Whether it was back taps for second-chance opportunities or challenging shots at the rim, McGee's energy and the crowd reaction it inspired helped prevent another early runaway.

McGee was almost as big of a disaster to start the third quarter as he had been a boost to begin the night, but here came Zaza Pachulia, whom McGee had replaced in the starting lineup. Primarily a screen-setter and ball-reverser, Pachulia did his best JaVale imitation, denying a dunk attempt by Carmelo and throwing down a dunk of his own—not to mention setting a hard screen that left Steven Adams futilely running out too late to challenge Curry on a corner three.

Pachulia provided his share of physical punishment, too, landing on Russell Westbrook underneath the Thunder's basket after a missed layup by Westbrook. This not being the first time Pachulia and Westbrook have collided, Westbrook didn't mince words. "Obviously it was intentional," he said. When asked if he thought Pachulia was a dirty player, Westbrook said, "Yeah, for sure."

The Warriors and Thunder have one more regular-season meeting, April 3, in Oklahoma City. Now it's the Thunder's turn to look forward to proving a point and shifting the narrative.

"They were more physical and moved around more," said a Thunder source. "They got their hands on us a little more than the first two games and we weren't ready for it. But we've got 'em one more time. At our place."

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