OAKLAND - It was supposed to be an epic battle. The league’s MVP versus the most athletic player in the league. A shooter versus a leaper. Finesse against power.
Going into halftime, only one superstar point guard showed up on Monday night at Oracle Arena and he was wearing Warriors blue.
Stephen Curry dropped in 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting going to the intermission and he had his Warriors up 60-47. It looked like we might have a runaway victory on our hands in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
Westbrook looked overwhelmed by the stage. The 27-year-old hit just 1-for-8 from the floor, finishing with three points and eight assists before the break.
When the ball hit the floor in the third quarter, Westbrook was a different player. The switch had been hit and Golden State had the feel of a heavyweight fighter using the ropes to keep themselves upright.
Westbrook looked like a man possessed, attacking the Warriors at both ends of the floor. The results were stunning as the Thunder shocked Golden State on their home floor for a 108-102 win in Game 1.
“I think my teammates did a great job of constantly keep trusting in me and trusting my abilities to help us win games,” Westbrook said. “I came back in the second half and tried to find ways to impact the game and it helped us out.”
When it was all said and done, Westbrook had posted 19 points in the third quarter, and the Thunder were down just three going to the final frame.
“He was able to get to the front of the rim and he made some passes and generated offense for some other guys,” coach Billy Donovan said. “He did a lot. He was very, very well balanced between his scoring and his passing.”
It’s what makes Westbrook so exciting to watch. He has an ability to completely take over a game and there is really nothing you can do to stop him. Be it driving to the basket, pulling up for a 3-ball or drawing a foul, the eight-year vet hit beast mode and the Warriors couldn’t keep up.
On the defensive end, he was a juggernaut, getting to every loose ball and playing the passing lanes.
“He’s probably the quickest guard in the league in terms of getting his hands on loose balls, long rebounds, you know, getting his hands in on a steal or whatever,” Steve Kerr said.
The Warriors made adjustments late, limiting Westbrook to just eight points in the fourth, but he still managed to finish the night with 27 points, 12 assists, six rebounds and seven steals in 40 minutes of action.
INEFFICIENT NIGHT FOR DURANT
Westbrook has taken a beating during his career for being a “me first” player. His 31 shot performance in the Thunder’s Game 3 loss to the Spurs drew the ire of plenty around the league, but will Kevin Durant get the same treatment after Game 1 in Oakland?
Durant finished the game with 26 points on 10-of-30 shooting. His top of the key jumper with 30.7 remaining sealed the deal for the Thunder, but up to that moment, he was just 2-for-11 in the fourth quarter.
BIG MAN IN THE BLOCKS
The Warriors have an arsenal of defensive-minded bigs, but it was the Thunder’s Steven Adams that owned the post in Game 1. The burly 7-footer from New Zealand hit the boards hard from the opening tip, finishing the night with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
“I think his work on the defensive end, guarding (Draymond) Green going to the basket - he did a great job on that of making him shoot over his length,” Durant said of his young big man. “He played a great overall game for us tonight.”
Adams played huge on both ends of the floor and his two free throws with a minute left in the game extended the Thunder’s lead to three.
Golden State will be tested trying to deal with Adams and his no nonsense approach to the game. He does the dirty work while Westbrook and Durant get the glory.
The Thunder are on a roll. After running through the 67 win San Antonio Spurs last week, including two huge victories at the At&T Center, OKC picked up a huge win Monday night at Oracle.
“Our guys, I think they understand what they’re walking into,” Donovan said. “The San Antonio series we knew we were playing against a great basketball team that guys had won championships and a great coach in Pop and we knew what we were playing against. Here we’re playing against Golden State and they’ve won an NBA championship.”
San Antonio and Golden State had lost a combined three games at home this season. The Thunder have beat the duo a total of three times over the last two weeks.