There were moments in the series opener between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday when the normally raucous Oracle Arena crowd seemed dazed and confused.
Who were these guys?
Where were the Warriors?
Golden State’s 108-102 loss to begin the highly anticipated Western Conference finals isn’t the basketball equivalent of a death rattle. The Warriors trailed in two of their series matchups last season en route to winning the NBA championship. As Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan noted earlier in the evening, in contrast to the single-elimination NCAA Tournament, the best-of-seven playoff format offers repeated opportunities for recovery and redemption.
But the team that won 73 games during the regular season, never suffered back-to-back losses and lost only twice at home appreciates both the caliber of the opponent and the importance of securing a Game 2 victory Wednesday. If not desperate, the Warriors are experiencing a healthy dose of concern.
“It’s foreign territory for this group,” center Andrew Bogut said after practice Tuesday. “We’ve been in similar situations where we’ve been down 2-1, but to lose that one at home was tough. It feels like it’s the end of the world for some people.”
When we are at our best, no matter how good a defense is, we move the ball, we move bodies, we set good screens and make defenses pay for being aggressive out on the perimeter. (Monday) that wasn’t us. We have to be better at being us.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry
From the Warriors’ perspective, the tenor of the defeat was almost as punishing as the Thunder’s large, physical front line of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter. Though known for playing the most beautiful basketball in the league, the Warriors took a 60-47 lead into the locker room at halftime, only to have misplaced their identity papers.
Seriously. Who were these guys? Draymond Green launched a series of rushed, ill-advised jumpers. Normally reliable reserves Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa missed easy opportunities at the basket, perhaps anticipating a strong contest by one of Oklahoma City’s rim protectors. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry missed an inordinate number of open looks and were similarly guilty of hurrying shots.
Curry also committed seven turnovers, most on risky hook passes into too-tight areas or attempts over the top despite the Thunder’s interior length and athleticism.
The Warriors generally shot too quickly, were too loose with the ball, and at times became afflicted by the one-on-one style that works for the Thunder but isn’t the reason Golden State hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy a year ago. There were too few sequences when they eschewed a good shot and passed to a teammate for a better shot.
“When we are at our best,” said Curry, the two-time MVP, “no matter how good a defense is, we move the ball, we move bodies, we set good screens and make defenses pay for being aggressive out on the perimeter. (Monday) that wasn’t us. We have to be better at being us.”
Of concern is this: The Thunder played a terrible first half, then dominated the final two quarters, reminding anyone who might have forgotten that Oklahoma City handled the aging but talented San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals. Donovan acknowledges his squad is mistake-prone and “not a perfect team,” but he has no problem with a few blemishes.
It’s foreign territory for this group. We’ve been in similar situations where we’ve been down 2-1, but to lose that one at home was tough. It feels like it’s the end of the world for some people.
Warriors center Andrew Bogut
While Adams and Ibaka anchored the interior, Kevin Durant and the relentless Russell Westbrook struck back quickly in the second half, and the Thunder held on for the victory. It was the other team – the normally unflappable Warriors – who unraveled in the deciding moments.
Coach Steve Kerr undoubtedly will make adjustments, perhaps using the 6-foot-7 Thompson more against Westbrook to reduce Curry’s responsibilities. But Game 2 figures to provide some clarity regarding the extent of the injuries to Curry (knee) and Bogut (thigh).
After the series opener, Curry sat at his locker with a white towel over his head, staring into space. He has admitted his sprained knee is not 100 percent, which might explain why he launched so many off-balance deep threes and didn’t blow past Oklahoma City’s big men on switches. Bogut, whose interior defense, screening and passing provide a valuable alternative to the Warriors’ small-ball lineup, limped off the court after 17 largely ineffective minutes Monday.
When Kerr was asked Tuesday about using his small lineup more extensively despite the Thunder’s rebounding advantage, he hedged.
“It’s not an easy thing to do against anybody, to play huge minutes with a small lineup,” Kerr said. “But against these guys, with their length and their rebounding, it would be tough to do for the whole game. We’re going to use it as best we can, at the times that are appropriate.”
Was Game 1 a Golden State aberration? Is OKC too big for the aching Warriors? Or is this going to be a fascinating seven-game series that doesn’t disappoint? Game 2 will provide plenty of clues.