OAKLAND—It was a tale of two halves in the opening game of the 2016 Western Conference Finals, in which the Oklahoma City Thunder stunned the mighty Golden State Warriors 108-102. OKC leads 1-0 in the series, and improved to 5-1 on the road in the playoffs.
The Thunder had a furious second half rally that was fueled by Russell Westbrook’s dominance, a stifling defense, and a fierce determination that resulted in victory. In addition, what’s become a common theme in these playoffs: a controversial call in the closing seconds. OKC had the ball clinging to a 3-point lead with 15 seconds left, as Westbrook crossed the half court line and dragged his pivot foot and traveled while signaling for a timeout.
Unfortunately, the referee granted Westbrook the timeout instead of giving the Warriors a final opportunity to tie the game. Oracle arena was aghast, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr was incredulous falling to his knees. This was a seldom seen case of ‘Road Cookin.’
The play is garnering too much attention as there are no guarantees the Warriors would have come down and nailed a three, due to the fact they had gone ice cold- 1 for 10 from beyond the arc in the fourth.
As Steph Curry drained a 3-pointer at the end of the first half, it looked as if the Warriors would cruise to an easy victory. Klay Thompson scored 19 points, the Warriors led comfortably at 60-47 at halftime. That is when everything unraveled.
The Thunder chipped away at the lead by taking the Warriors completely out of rhythm in the second half. The towering duo of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter forced them to take ill-advised shots. For once the acrobatic shots we’ve grown accustomed to going through the net, looked clunky and off balanced.
“They have a pretty big lineup they can throw out there and do a lot of switching, and taking you out of certain reads,” said Steph Curry. He scored 26 points, but find themselves in real trouble. They held Durant to 10 of 30 from the field. And were outscored 24-13 in the fourth quarter while their effortless ball movement, usually poetry in motion was grinded to a halt.
Westbrook poured in an astounding 19 points in the third quarter alone, finishing with a game high of 27 points, 12 assists and 7 steals after starting out 1 for 8 from the field. Kevin Durant meanwhile had 26 points including the dagger. A 17-foot jumper over Andre Iguodala put them up by 5 and sealed the deal.
OKC used their size advantage and pounded the glass, out rebounding the Warriors 52-44. They also stopped being careless with the ball, only committing 2 turnovers in the second half. Amazingly the Thunder have flipped the script. Notoriously squandering huge leads and a weak supporting cast are all in the past.
Golden State has the chance to even the series Wednesday night pursuit of back-to-back NBA titles.