Al Iannazzone joined Newsday in January 2012 as the Knicks’ beat writer, after covering the NBA for 11
Kevin Durant spent a lot of the first half giving away the basketball and a good part of the fourth quarter almost giving away the lead with his shooting. But when his team needed a huge, game-saving basket Monday night, Durant gave it to the Thunder.
Russell Westbrook looked like he left his shot in Oklahoma City or San Antonio the way he started Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. But when the Thunder needed him to find his game and make plays, the dynamic Westbrook delivered.
Durant and Westbrook did for their team what two-time league MVP Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green couldn’t do for the Warriors on Monday night.
It’s only one game, but it was a great start for the Thunder, winning on the NBA champs’ home court, 108-102, on a night when Durant and Westbrook missed 34 shots and committed eight turnovers.
“Both of those guys, I give a lot of credit for their resiliency and resolve to keep battling when things weren’t going their way,” Thunder coach and Rockville Centre product Billy Donovan said.
Westbrook finished with 27 points, 12 assists and seven steals, and Durant had 26 points and 10 rebounds. But those numbers don’t tell the story of what they did, and had to overcome, or the Thunder for that matter, having to erase a 14-point deficit in the second half.
Durant, who finished 10-for-30 from the field, missed seven consecutive shots in the fourth quarter. But with the Thunder’s eight-point lead down to three with less than a minute left, Durant did what all great scorers do, what a four-time scoring champ would do with the game on the line.
He called for the ball, and believed his shot would drop. His jumper with 30.7 seconds left made it 105-100. It silenced a stunned crowd that was anxious and nervous throughout a second half dominated by Oklahoma City.
Westbrook was the catalyst, naturally. Instead of letting Curry and the Warriors’ offense dictate the game, Westbrook took control of it. After starting 1-for-10, he erupted for 19 points in the third.
It ended up being the type of flurry that Curry and Golden State usually can count on to demoralize teams. The tables were turned, and the Warriors didn’t respond well, and now they face a must-win in Game 2 at home on Wednesday.
This is the first time this postseason the Warriors are trailing in a series. The Thunder has the stars, size — center Steven Adams continues to have a big impact in these playoffs — and athleticism to knock off Golden State, especially if Durant and Westbrook are on.
But the same can be said for the Warriors, who proved it by being crowned champs last year and winning an NBA-record 73 games during this regular season.
The Thunder ultimately showed more resiliency, resolve and poise than the Warriors though. It’s something Oklahoma City has been doing throughout this postseason.
It happened against the San Antonio Spurs in the prior round, coming back after a 32-point loss in Game 1. In that series, the Thunder won the last two games in San Antonio, where the Spurs had lost just once all season.
With this win, the Thunder has won three straight road games against two teams that lost three home games combined in the regular season.
“We’re a resilient group,” Durant said. “We keep fighting to the end. That’s all we can do.”
Curry and the Warriors are going to charge back. That’s what great players and champions do. Golden State shot 6-for-23 in the fourth quarter and scored only 14 points — very uncharacteristic for this group. But they were rattled and weren’t moving the ball the way they usually do.
“Way too many quick shots,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I do think we lost our poise a little bit. That had a lot to do with those quick shots. We were trying to rectify the situation in one or two plays instead of letting it play out.”
There was some controversy near the end of the game when the Thunder appeared to benefit from a non-call. That also has been a common thread in these playoffs. Officials’ calls and non-calls late in the game influenced the end of two of the Thunder’s wins over San Antonio.
Westbrook could have — and should have — been called for a travel with about 17 seconds left and the Thunder up three. It happened right in front of Kerr, who had a look of disbelief when there was no call and the Thunder got to call a timeout.
Kerr didn’t make a big deal about it after the game. It didn’t decide the outcome. The Thunder’s aggressiveness and resiliency, and the Warriors uncharacteristically playing out of sync and looking overanxious did.