It was the season series finale that had Thunder fans salivating, while simultaneously slightly worried. The first two games in the Thunder-Warriors series literally came down to the last second.
The Nov. 14th contest saw Russell Westbrook supposedly steal a win for the Thunder with 2.3 seconds left, only to have Andre Iguodala hit a game-winning jumper as the clock expired.
And in the Nov. 29th match-up, the 48 minutes provided by regulation was not enough to decide a winner. Even with an additional 5 minutes granted, it came down to the final tenth-of-a-second in OT as Westbrook’s game-winning 3 was hit with too little time for the Warriors to respond.
With both contests coming down to the wire, and each team looking every bit like the other’s equal, most Thunder fans I knew (me included) were confident that we were going to get another down-to-the-wire game, with the winner being a true coin toss.
The thing I’ve also noticed about this series is the offensive production in these games, by both teams. The first two games saw both teams combine for 225 points or more. The first game was a 116-115 Warriors victory, with both teams combining for 230 points, while the second was a 113-112 Thunder victory that saw both teams combine for 225. The final regular season showdown between these two teams was no exception, as both teams combined for their highest total yet: 248 points.
So naturally the 1st was an offensive explosion at both ends. The largest lead for either team was the 7 the Thunder were taking into the 2nd, as the first ended 39-32.
The 2nd quarter saw a quick Thunder bucket extend the lead to 9 (41-32), but that would be the largest lead of the first half for either team. Both offenses were still rolling, as they both scored 30+ for the second straight quarter. Once the buzzer sounded, the Thunder found themselves taking a 71-65 lead into halftime. Just one night after allowing the most points in a half, allowing 73 from the Rockets at Toyota Center the night before, their 71 establishes a season-high for points scored in a quarter.
As expected, the Warriors continued to stick around. They even pulled within 3 (82-79) with 6:25 remaining in the 3rd. Then a 17-7 Thunder run extended the lead to 13 (99-86) with 47.5 left in the 3rd, and the quarter ended with the Thunder up 101-91.
The Warriors tried as hard as they could to chip away at the cushion, but just couldn’t hold off the hot hand of Kevin Durant. With the score 113-101, and 6:40 to play, Durant started an 11-3 run of his own against the Warriors. A sexy Durant 3-ball off of a Reggie Jackson assist kicked it off, only to be answered by a Draymond Green step-back jumper off of an Iguodala assist. Durant drains another 3-ball off of a Serge Ibaka assist, then Ibaka fouls David Lee at the other end. It turns into a good foul as Lee only hits the back-end of his free throws, only to be met with Durant’s 48th, 49th, and 50th points of the evening, these 3 off of a Jackson assist. Durant even gets back to get a block at the other end, which ends up rebounded by Thabo Sefolosha, and finishes his run with a turnaround jumper off of a Jeremy Lamb assist. This brought the Thunder lead to 17 (121-104), which pretty much sealed the deal with 4:53 left in the game. Although the Warriors were able to finish the game on a 10-2 run, the damage was already done, and the night ended with a 127-121 score that gives the Thunder a 2-1 victory for the season series. This win puts the Thunder at 30-10 for the season, while dropping the Warriors to 25-16. (The Warriors are currently 26-16 with last night’s victory over the Pelicans.) The 127 points scored are also the Thunder’s season-high for a game this season.
The interesting thing about Durant’s 54 are that he pulled it off with so few touches. With 54 points and six assists on 67.9 percent shooting (19-for-28), Durant becomes the first player to score at least 54 points on at least 65-percent shooting while handing out at least five assists since Michael Jordan pulled it off over 15 years ago on April 3, 1988. According to SportVU, Durant scored those 54 on just 68 touches. When he starts doing things that no one has pulled off since the great MJ, an NBA Championship begins to look like an inevitability in Durant’s future.
The thing about this victory is that, despite Durant’s career-high 54 points being the trending topic of social media yesterday, he didn’t do it by himself, as the announcers would have led you to believe. Ibaka contributed 21 points of his own, while Jackson dropped 14 points, and Lamb chipped in 12 from the Thunder bench. Even Kendrick Perkins played well, pulling down 12 boards.
Rare are the games where you score 121 and can’t pull off the victory, because you don’t score that high without excellent performances. Stephen Curry had a 37-point, 11-assist double-double. He currently leads the league in 30-point, 10-assist games with 5 for the season. Klay Thompson dropped 26 points, while Lee posted 13. Plus, Marreese Speights and Green combined for 23 from the Warriors bench (Speights: 13, Green: 10).
The Thunder got their rest last night, as I had way too much going on to be able to sit and write a coherent postgame yesterday. Tonight they welcome the Kings to Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder took a 97-95 victory over the Kings back on Dec. 3rd, and three games remain in the season series. This one tips off at 6pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.