The cliche in the NBA playoffs is the series doesn't start until the road team wins a game. If that's the case, the Western Conference Finals are officially underway.
The Oklahoma City Thunder stunned the defending champion Golden State Warriors 108-102 in Game 1 of the teams' best-of-seven series at Oracle Arena on Monday. The Warriors held the lead after each of the first three quarters, but the same Oklahoma City squad that was criticized all year for its fourth-quarter collapses won the final 12 minutes 23-14.
Kevin Durant added 26 points and 10 rebounds and hit a critical jumper to put Oklahoma City ahead by five with 30.7 seconds remaining—though he finished 10-of-30 from the field. Steven Adams (16 points and 12 rebounds) and Serge Ibaka (11 points and 11 rebounds) also posted double-doubles.
Stephen Curry did what he could for Golden State with 26 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, but he shot just 9-of-22 from the field and committed seven turnovers. He did, however, set a postseason record:
Klay Thompson (25 points and nine rebounds) and Draymond Green (23 points) provided some assistance, but the Warriors turned the ball over 14 times and shot 44 percent from the field.
Golden State led 11-10 midway through the first when Westbrook went to the floor grabbing his face. Andrew Bogut had made contact with the point guard's head as he reached for a rebound and earned a flagrant foul. Westbrook remained in the game.
CBS Sports shared a look at the play:
The Warriors took a 27-21 lead into the second quarter but shot only 2-of-7 from three-point range. John Schuhmann of NBA.com said, "I know the Warriors' bad shots are sometimes good shots, but the Warriors have been taking some awful shots," which made it feel as if Oklahoma City had missed an opportunity to take control of the game in the early going.
That seemed even truer when Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala spearheaded a 10-3 run over the first two minutes of the second to give Golden State a 37-24 advantage. Sean Highkin of Bleacher Report weighed in on the quick spurt:
The Thunder cut the deficit to 46-42 on an Ibaka dunk, but Thompson answered by entering into takeover mode. He drilled two threes and scored in the lane for a personal 8-0 spurt, and just like that, the Warriors were ahead by 12 with less than two minutes remaining until halftime. NBA on TNT shared the quick response that started the run:
Not to be outdone by his fellow Splash Brother, Curry connected on a ridiculous three at the buzzer to give the Warriors a 60-47 halftime lead:
To Oklahoma City's credit, it continued to hang around in the third quarter and staved off every significant advance by Golden State. Westbrook capped a 14-2 blitz for the Thunder with a three-pointer at the 6:02 mark of the third that trimmed the gap to a narrow 68-66.
Mike Prada of SB Nation pointed out the Thunder fared much better when the tempo was under control:
Just when it was getting a bit too close for comfort for the home team, Curry connected on two of his patented threes—one of which he banked in—as the Warriors opened an 81-69 advantage. Westbrook, however, scored 19 points in the third quarter alone to help Oklahoma City stay within striking distance, and it trailed just 88-85 heading into the fourth.
Dan Wolken of USA Today highlighted one of the silver linings for the Thunder after three:
All that hanging around paid off for Oklahoma City when it scored 10 of the first 13 points of the fourth to jump ahead 95-91. Golden State slowed the hectic pace it had played during much of the first three quarters, and Westbrook extended the Thunder's lead to six on a jumper with 5:25 left before Adams made it 101-93 with 4:41 to go. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman commented on the Warriors' offensive woes:
Golden State appeared to fix its shot-selection issue when it cut the deficit to 101-98 on a Curry three and a Green layup, but Durant also helped. The Thunder superstar missed eight straight shots to open the door for a Warriors charge, and Matt Moore of CBS Sports reflected on his shooting issues:
But after Harrison Barnes' turnaround made it 101-100 with 2:01 to play, Adams sank two free throws and Durant drilled arguably the most important shot of the game to give the Thunder a 105-100 advantage. Iguodala scored to cut the deficit to three, but Westbrook hit three of four free throws down the stretch (after the officials missed his apparent travel before an Oklahoma City timeout with 17.2 seconds left).
Golden State's chance to win essentially evaporated when Curry missed a turnaround three that would have cut the lead to 106-105 with about 10 seconds remaining.
Game 2 of the series is set for Wednesday in Oakland, California.
It is difficult to call it a must-win for the Warriors considering they were an astounding 73-9 this season and are talented enough to win consistently on the road, but they certainly don't want to lose the opening two games of the series at home. That would put them in a situation in which they had to win four of five contests—with three of those in Oklahoma City—to continue their magical season.
The Thunder have already earned at least a split of the first two games, but a 2-0 series lead would be a huge advantage, especially since Oklahoma City has three home games ahead.
The Thunder were the better team in crunch time Monday, and if they do that three more times, Oklahoma City will be the Western Conference champion.
Warriors fans who were upset with the officials can take solace in the fact Joe Borgia, the NBA's senior vice president of replay and referee operations, said Westbrook should have been called for a travel late in the game, via NBA Official:
While he may have traveled, the point guard earned high praise from Thunder head coach Billy Donovan, per Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman: "He played an exceptional second half. In every facet."
Donovan also explained how his team rallied from double-digit deficits, per the San Jose Mercury News' Fast Break: "They've got incredible shot-making ability. ... You can't allow that to affect you. You've got to play through that."
Adams pointed to his team's evolution, per Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com: "We're maturing mentally. We're able to not get discouraged at all and just maintain discipline."
Enes Kanter took the opportunity to silence one doubter in particular:
Golden State head coach Steve Kerr focused on more than just the end of the game, per Fast Break: "It wasn't so much what happened in the last minute, it was what happened throughout the second half."
Curry seemed more excited about an opportunity than upset about the loss, per J.A. Adande of ESPN.com: "I think it's fun to be able to have this opportunity to come back and show what we're made of, show our resiliency."
The Warriors have every right to be confident after winning the title last season and putting together an incredible 2015-16 regular season, but another home loss to the Thunder would put them in a difficult position.