Finally, the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder provided a game that more completely explains why there should be two more of them.
Not because of the identity of the victor, mind you. The Warriors extended the Western Conference Final with a sweatbox-quality 120-111 win over the Thunder in Game 5, forcing a trip back to the Midwest. No, we speak of more of its quality, and the way it more accurately reflected the strengths, weaknesses, quirks and hidden face cards of these two teams.
Kevin Durant was brilliant. Stephen Curry was healed. Russell Westbrook was deliciously erratic and indomitable in the best Iversonian tradition. Andrew Bogut rose from the morgue to play perhaps his best important game since those in the Denver series two years ago, and Stephen Adams struggled as a result. There was give and take, yin and yang, hoi and polloi and a wonderful sense of balance between two teams that would do this mostly sub-mediocre postseason an enormous solid by having the NBA declare it a best of 13-series.
That is, if you are willing to upset the delicate equation of the desperate favorite and the imperious underdog. Golden State rose in nine-deep unison to cut a third of its daunting game deficit, but now they go to their own personal house of horrors to prove that they still have what they lost after Game 2.
While it is true that the Thunder would prefer one more bloodless mop job Saturday, and while it is equally so that until Thursday night that it would have been the right and just result, the fact is that America needs Golden State to prevail again in Game 6, and in much the same fashion as it did in Game 5, for one simple and indisputable reason, namely:
You are not going to get any more entertainment out of the dust-dry and drama-deficient Eastern Conference Final. Trust us on that. Cavs-Raptors has had all the incandescence of a black shroud on a stable floor, and Game 6 is almost sure to be another tribute to post-modern tedium.
On the other hand, this series finally achieved its true promise, because it frankly had to do so.
“I liked our will, I liked our fight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We were embarrassed in Oklahoma City, and we fought hard tonight.”
They had to do the first because they had done the second –- twice. This series was in the process of being a massive buzzkill when three things happened.
1. The Thunder did not blow the Warriors out of their own building in the first five minutes as they had Chesapeake Energy Center.
2. Bogut was present to the point of near-omnipresence.
3. The Warrior depth finally revealed itself at the cost of the not Durant-Westbrookian Thunder.
Bogut, frankly, served as the messenger for all the rest of it. His 15-point, 14-rebound, three-foul, 29-minute performance changed the entire game dynamic. He negated the force of Adams, he helped the Warriors fight the Thunder even in rebounds and induced them to shoot a paltry 40.5 percent (15-of-37) inside the paint that they had owned so tight-fistedly in the previous games of this series.
But his work also made it possible for the other members of the side to excel as well. Draymond Green (11/13/four blocks and a Ken Mauer technical foul) mattered, Andre Iguodala (eight points, eight assists in 34 quality minutes) mattered, Shaun Livingston (14 smooth minutes in relief of Curry) mattered, Marreese Speights (14 on seven shots in eight minutes) mattered.
And Curry made 70 percent of Curry look a lot more like, in Kerr’s words, “91 percent.” His 31 points on 20 shots were efficient enough, but his seven rebounds, six assists and five steals made him the best player on the floor, better even than Durant, who took charge of the stagnant Oklahoma City offense for 40 points on 31 shots, or Westbrook (31 on 28).
Adams was fully neutralized, Andre Roberson, Serge Ibaka and Dion Waiters had little impact upon the game, and the only other meaningful offering came from former Warrior Anthony Morrow, who had barely cast a shadow in Games 1 through 4.
In sum, the Thunder had shown its full versatility, discipline and aggression in Games 3 and 4, and the Warriors looked fully Warriorish in Game 5. While it is unlikely that we can see both teams at their best at the same time, because part of what makes them great is their mutual abilities to take from each other, it is still worth the try.
“It’s a series right now,” Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan said, somewhat ruefully. “Now we have to travel back, try to continually evolve and get better from this, and get ready to play Game 6.”
Simplistic, true, and we are choosing to omit the fact that the Warriors won one important statistic –- free throws. Golden State hit 31 of 34 to Oklahoma City’s 20 of 24, and while that fact irked Donovan enough to get his own technical, it spoke to Golden State’s willingness to attack the basket smartly and persistently -– just as Games 3 and 4 showed how well the Thunder did the very same thing.
“It’s a series right now” is not yet fully accurate, let’s be honest. Oklahoma City still has a clear leg up and is heading back home, but “it’s a series right now” gives us all the best hope for will make this a truly memorable series for the greatest number of basketball fans . . . a Game 7 between the two most dynamic teams left standing, with both teams fully pot-committed by the realization that margins for error are for cowards, and that mutual desperation makes for the best show, no matter who wins.
If that’s not good enough for you, just go ahead and hate basketball over in the corner where nobody else is. You won’t be missed that much, and the rest of us will be grateful for the extra leg and elbow room.