That was the start of something special for Oklahoma City after they trailed by 12 just moments before. Westbrook proceeded to score 15 more points over the last 7 minutes of the quarter, chalk full of driving layups and his all-too-familiar midrange pull-up jumpers.
Westbrook battled. He battled and led his team back into an 81-80 lead with 1:57 remaining in the third quarter. Setting things up for yet another exciting final 12 minutes of the game.
All the positives from this one came from Westbrook, who scored a game-high 44 points on 15-of-26 shooting, while the bench and Steven Adams lacked their “A” game. Specifically, there was a play where he rolled off an Adams screen and found Paul George in the corner where he connected on a three. On the ensuing offensive possession George, who might’ve gained confidence from the previous shot drove the lane and attempted a behind the back pass to Adams that resulted in a turnover. Those two sequences exemplified of the game.
With a terribly depleted Warriors bench, OKC’s reserves managed to fall short when it mattered most. Golden State’s bench outscored the Thunder’s bench 38-14.
“More than anything, it’s just frustrating not being able to kind of carry our own weight and help in those moments,” George said. “If I make shots and put that pressure on them, we win this game tonight.”
It was a balanced attack from David West, Jordan Bell, Damian Jones who’s spent significant time in the G-League, JaVale McGee, and Nick Young. None of them had eye-popping numbers but their simply individual contributions aided the Warriors without Steph Curry. They were still able to manage despite a combined seven points between Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia.
What this split season series has shown is that the Thunder and Warriors would be an intriguing matchup during the playoffs. It shows that the Warriors aren’t invincible this season. A first-round matchup is exactly what may happen between these teams with the Thunder just a half-game ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves for seventh in the conference and the Warriors being a lock at two.
“We figured it out. We’re good,” said Westbrook. “As long as we’re good in this locker room, regardless of what anyone says in this locker room, it really doesn’t matter. As long as we’re good as a team, as a unit, as brothers. We have a great relationship off the floor. That’s all that matters.”
Which is true, but good relationships and a brotherhood don’t automatically equal success. Execution has to be included in that and despite Westbrook’s verbal affirmation that they’ve figured things out, their actions (or play) don’t always show that. If there was one word to describe this season it would be inconsistent. Every game has a question mark next to it and you never know when they’ll be clicking. You definitely don’t know when they’ve found a rhythm. Now, just three games from this season concluding, this team still doesn’t have an identity other than simply being inconsistent.
A first-round matchup against the Warriors may work out in OKC’s favor considering Curry being out for the entire first round due to injury. Anthony and George aren’t going to shoot 9-of-35 over a seven-game series, Jerami Grant is good for 10 points per game and Raymond Felton is usually a reliable backup point guard.