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OAKLAND – By destroying an Eastern Conference powerhouse and then a Western Conference powerhouse in a three-night span, the Warriors certified themselves as legitimate championship contenders.
Moreover, they accomplished this with the man fairly considered indispensable to winning a title watching helplessly from the bench.
Maybe indispensible is the wrong word.
It would be nice to have Andrew Bogut on the court. It would make the Warriors a bigger, stronger, more imposing team. Against certain opponents, or when the game slows down, as it tends to do in May and June, Bogut might be absolutely necessary.
But right now, the Warriors are playing as well as they have all season – including their 16-game win streak that spanned mid-November through mid-December. Their 117-91 decomposition of the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night at Oracle Arena was strategically masterful, aesthetically marvelous and utterly thorough.
"We didn't have an off night. They outplayed us," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "They made us not play well. They're the best team in basketball."
The best team in basketball. Well, let's see. The Warriors have the best record in the NBA, 27-5. They have the best home record, 14-1. They have the biggest scoring differential, 10.5 points per game. Their offense has the highest shooting percentage, 48.3, and their defense holds teams to a league-low 42.2 percent.
Yes, the check marks are piling up for the Warriors, and it seemed they all conspired to blow up any chance OKC (17-18) had of finding a victory – even with stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook fully healthy.
"I just think we're in a good groove," coach Steve Kerr said. "We're about three months into the season now, and all the offense that we are running and the actions that we are trying to get to, guys are more comfortable with it. It’s becoming more instinctive, more natural. We have a little better flow to our offense and the biggest thing is we're taking care of the ball.
"So even on a night like tonight, when we hit some lulls and we didn't quite have it at times, we're taking care of the ball. If we do that and we rebound and defend like we have all year, then it's going to be hard for teams to come into this building and beat us."
The Warriors jumped the Thunder from the start, taking a 10-4 lead that forced an OKC timeout. They went up 17-6, forcing another timeout. They built an 18-point lead (48-30) early in the second quarter and never let the margin fall below 14.
It was a rout, OKC's worst loss in at least three seasons with Durant and Westbrook on the floor. Disrupted and sometime double-teamed by the Warriors, Durant (3-of-16) and Westbrook (5-of-21) combined to shoot 8-of-37 from the floor.
Again, this defense was without Bogut.
"It's what won us the game," said Justin Holiday of an effort that limited the Thunder to 30.6-percent shooting. "That's what our team will have to do in order to be able to continue the success we are (having) and continue winning games."
It's the offense that folks consistently praise, perhaps because Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are such remarkable shooters. The offense is outstanding, and it ignites great walls of noise from sellout crowds at Oracle.
But it's the defense that allows sellout crowds at Oracle to dream of what's possible.
And, right now, with that defense shining devoid of the big man, yes, the Warriors can stamp themselves as legit.
OKC's field-goal percentage was a season-low for Warriors opponents, and the fifth lowest by any team in any game this season.
Harrison Barnes sizzled, making all five of his 3-point shots and finishing with a game-high 23 points. He picked off seven rebounds.
Curry's line: 19 points, nine rebounds, six assists and four steals.
Draymond Green posted his third straight double-double (11 points, 13 rebounds) and added five assists and three blocked shots.
The Warriors missed 12 of their 32 free throws. Green was particularly bad, missing all four of his shots from the line.
Mo Speights, for once, wasn't a factor. He played 17 mostly ineffective minutes, finishing with 6 points on 1-of-8 shooting, and six rebounds.
By crushing the Thunder three nights after pulverizing the Raptors, the Warriors have indeed sent a message – maybe two. One, it's evident in the details that they are serious about chasing a championship. And, two, Oracle Arena is becoming a fortress.
Though the Warriors' reputation for offense today, tomorrow and forever – how can it when they're raining threes – the defense is swinging a mighty hammer. Not having Bogut has been, so far, no impediment to success.