OAKLAND -- The Golden State Warriors improved their record to 46-14 Thursday night with a 121-106 win over the closeout-challenged Oklahoma City Thunder.
That is to say, 46-14 against the standard both we and they have built for themselves. Because frankly, that’s about all that’s left against whom to compare them -- their own damned selves.
Against the rest of the league, of course, the Warriors are 55-5, and have won all the home games in the world. But everyone knows all that. In fact, at this point, there isn’t a whole lot America doesn’t know about their new cultural overlords, and given the spectacular undoing of politics, movies, television and all other forms of lightweight entertainment, they may be all that is left.
In other words, with all other metrics staked out and repeated as though they were individual chapters from a sacred text (who doesn’t know, for example, that they are 34-24-2 against the line, which is second to San Antonio, or 35-25 against the total, behind Houston?), there is one arbitrary standard left, and that is: “How would they do in a parallel universe playing only against replacement-value themselves?”
And if some alternate reality version of Countdown’s Rachel Riley has an algorithm for this, we don’t want to know.
The Warriors played an arrhythmic game against the Thunder for three quarters, finding neither offensive coherence, the right defense for Kevin Durant or the rebounds they have come to expect as their own. Stephen Curry was AWOT -- absent without threes -- and the best players on the floor were often Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights.
But two other things were true as well. They protected the basketball (they had one fewer turnover than Durant, who had 9), and they prevented Russell Westbrook from being a force for the underdog. Those things remained constant, and the Thunder broke down as they often do in fourth quarters, while the Warriors finished the way they typically play third quarters -– the same way a boa constrictor clears, preps and eats its dinner.
It was, therefore, a standard Warrior game in that the Warriors met or exceeded enough components of their standard. And unless we are being fed an entire season of false positives, they have removed one more team from the very small list of teams that could beat them four times in a playoff series.
They had more trouble with Milwaukee. They had more trouble with Atlanta and Brooklyn and Boston and the Los Angeles Clippers, and to be brutally absurd, Philadelphia.
But none of those teams, save for the Clippers, are likely to face them in the postseason, while they must face each other every night. They have rendered most of the drama of an entire season sunder, and are in the early stages of demolishing basketball as we have known it.
Those processes are just beginning, though, and between now and then, all we really have is how they did against themselves, both individually and collectively, as in:
- DID CURRY AMAZE? Not so much Thursday night, He made two late threes to thrill the audience, which contained Prince for awhile (until he decided that sitting that close to Joe Lacob wasn’t good for his eardrums), but it wasn’t a night with amazing shots, passes or totals. His was a very meh 33-point evening.
- DID THOMPSON AMUSE? Again, he was OK, but invisible from beyond the arc. Harrison Barnes was, frankly, a more noticeable contributor.
- DID GREEN PITCH A HISSY? He got a little snippy with Courtney Kirkland, Derek Richardson and Mike Callahan, the officials, but was for the most part consistent and conscientious throughout.
- DID KERR PITCH ONE? Very early on, the team looked very ... well, Timberwolfy might be one way to put it. But after letting his inner Rottweiler out for a quick walkabout, he calmed down and helped congeal the gentlemen around him to the collective purpose of the evening.
- DID LIVINGSTON GUARD THE HELL OUT OF HIS MAN? Oh yes indeed, just as much if not more than Andre Iguodala did his. It was one of his best nights in Oakland, and deserves a mention that he normally does not get.
- WAS THIS A SPECIAL EVENING? IN OTHER WORDS, WAS IT A "GREAT TIME OUT?" It was a decent time out, let’s put it that way. The Warriors flirted with defeat, and then beat it like an abalone waiting for the deep fryer.
- WERE THEY TO PLAY OKLAHOMA CITY TEN TIMES, THEY WOULD WIN: Minimum seven, probably eight.
In other words, it was a performance that reminded any and all that this is a team that continues to grapple with the art of being indomitable. They had little reason to be pleased with their work in Oklahoma City, and only the ethereal Curry saved them from a loss they would have richly merited, but they were as they expect themselves to be Thursday night.
They exposed the biggest reason why Oklahoma City isn’t a convincing title contender, and barring injuries that could radically change the landscape between now and parade-booking time, the teams that have reason to believe in a brighter day are now barely four, and probably closer to three.
And the Warriors are still first among equals, by a considerable and sustained margin.