OKLAHOMA CITY –- The Warriors have spent this season bottling the wind, at times seizing victory on a whim, yet no triumph during this season of triumphs compares to that which they summoned Saturday night.
Trailing the explosive Thunder by 14 on the first quarter and by 11 at the half, the Warriors got their first lead in the final two minutes of the third quarter, shortly after Stephen Curry came limping back into the game after tweaking his left ankle.
They trailed by 12 three minutes into the fourth, by 11 with 4:51 left.
The Warriors rallied to outscore Oklahoma City 18-7 through regulation, with inconsistent free throw shooter Andre Iguodala nailing two from the line with .7 seconds left to send the game into overtime, at which point the Warriors stitched together five dogged minutes in OT to earn a 121-118 win.
“We missed a ton of layups and we just weren’t playing like ourselves in the first half,” coach Steve Kerr said. “On the road, against a big team, to be able to pull it off was awesome.”
Curry scored a game-high 46 points, including the clinching 3-pointer with .6 seconds left in OT that suddenly paralyzed what had been a rocking, roaring sellout crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
After OKC star Kevin Durant fouled out in the first minute of OT, the Warriors outscored the Thunder 16-10 to close it out.
From Curry’s startling recovery to Draymond Green’s excellence without making a field goal to Klay Thompson’s “quiet” 32 points to Iguodala’s clutch free throws and all-around play, this was the most battle-scarred victory of a season during which the Warriors are winning at a record pace, now 53-5.
“Yeah, all things considered,” Curry said. “End of a road trip, against a great team at home and the way the first half kind of went with injuries. We just found a way.
“If you think about all the things that had to go our way down the stretch and the things that we had a hand in forcing our way, it is just a great win.”
The Thunder (41-18), as is their custom against the Warriors opened ablaze, going up 20-7 in less than six minutes. The Warriors spent most of the evening trying to catch up, which is a monumental task when Durant (37 points) and Russell Westbrook (26) are filling it up for the other team.
The Warriors, furthermore, were getting hammered on the glass. OKC grabbed 62 rebounds to 32 (a season low) for the Warriors. Though they clinched a playoff berth during the game with a Houston loss at San Antonio, the defending champs looked like a team at the end of a long road trip during which they zigzagged the country.
“We continue to fight, fight, fight, fight,” Green said. “Different guys made big plays, from Andre knocking two free throws down, Steph and Klay hitting a couple 3s to get us to that point, to a few defensive stops to every big play we needed in overtime.”
Green, more than anybody else, symbolized the wizardry displayed on this night. He scored 2 points, going 0-for-8 from the field. He also grabbed a team-high 14 rebounds, passed for a game-high 14 assists and picked off a game-high six steals.
“Draymond was incredible the whole second half -– the best game I’ve seen anybody play without making a field goal in a long time,” Kerr said. “Maybe since Dennis Rodman.”
Rodman, a former teammate of Kerr with the Chicago Bulls, retired 16 years ago.
It is the Bulls who remain squarely in sight of the Warriors. The 1995-96 Bulls own the NBA record for most wins, going 72-10. The Warriors are one game ahead of that pace.
And now they’re going home, where they are undefeated this season and will play 17 of their final 24 games.
If the Warriors should get into their wins total into the 70s, there will be a few games to look back on and wonder how they managed to succeed. There have been four OT wins: the Nets on Nov. 14, at Boston on Dec. 11, the Nuggets on Jan. 2 and this one.
Even if there are more, this one will stand out. The Warriors stole it, and in the most honest of ways.