After losing back-to-back games by a combined 52 points, the Golden State Warriors got a season-saving win Thursday night, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder from almost start to finish and winning Game 5, 120-111.
How does that happen? How does a team look woefully overmatched in two straight games and then win just a few days later?
“I feel like they stopped playing scared,” Bay Area News Group Warriors insider Marcus Thompson said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “They’ve been rattled like I’ve never seen them before – real jittery and just uncomposed. Tonight, it just felt like they were like, ‘We got nothing to lose, we got nothing to be nervous about or scared about. Let’s just go play.’ I felt like for the first time since Game 3 started, really, that they just didn’t look rattled. They looked like a team that was much more ready to fight this time, which, that’s all you can really ask for, right?”
The Thunder almost matched Golden State bucket-for-bucket in Game 5, but the Warriors maintained a cushion throughout. Four points. Six points. Eight points. The Thunder stayed within striking distance but couldn’t get over the hump – even with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combining for 71 points.
Indeed, the Warriors, thanks to a team-high 31 points from Curry, staved off elimination and regained some mental toughness that was noticeably lacking in Games 3 and 4.
“We’ve seen them do this to people,” Thompson said. “For the last two years, they’ve been the team that left the other team without any answers. They’ve been the team that comes at you in so many ways where you kind of feel like, ‘What are we supposed to do? If we play big, they bring a small-ball lineup in. If we slow the game down, they make threes.’ It’s just what happens. When a team really figures you out, it’s easy to get exacerbated and kind of lose your composure. I think OKC did that to them and they had to get it back because if you don’t get it back, you’re getting ran out of the gym. The Warriors have not faced an elimination game under Steve Kerr before tonight because they usually figure teams out and leave them without an answer. And now the favor has been returned.”
Draymond Green was once again quiet offensively, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the floor, but he made all of the hustle plays. He had 13 rebounds, four assists and four blocks.
After the game, Thompson jokingly told Green, “Welcome back.”
“He started laughing because he knows,” Thompson said. “Draymond Green was talking trash. He blocked Westbrook in the first quarter, pinned him to the glass and then immediately turns around and started talking trash. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s the Warriors. That’s the team we know that’s swagging on the rest of the league, talking trash, making threes, having fun – that’s when they’re at their best.’ They became that again. I think the Thunder intimidated them. Once they got hit with Game 3 and they were down by 41, I think for the first time they were like, ‘Wow, this team is really good. This is something we haven’t felt before.’ And it just became an intimidating thing.
“Tonight,” Thompson continued, “it felt like, ‘Well, all right, we’re good, too. You guys are great. We’re great. Let’s just go at it.’ They need that personality because really, when you think about it, they aren’t individually that great. Their greatness is together and chemistry and intangible stuff. The Thunder got real legitimate full-blown NBA players. Athletes with length. If you were to put some players in a lab and put your chemistry set together and make an NBA player, you’d get what the Thunder have. The Warriors don’t have that. They have guys who are highly skilled, who don’t have the athleticism, who are kind of undersized. But they win with chemistry and heart and personality and effort and toughness. They kind of need that edge and that personality, and it looked like they got it back tonight.”
Interestingly, while the Warriors were traveling home from Oklahoma City after Game 4, the San Jose Sharks made the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
“The Sharks were the rebound girl,” Thompson said, laughing. “Everybody was heartbroken about the Warriors, (but) the Sharks won. That was excellent timing by San Jose to make their first Stanley Cup because it was pretty depressing after the Warriors came home with their tail between their legs. It was great timing. And you know what? I think the way people kind of got off the Warriors – not just with the Sharks, but in general (with thinking), ‘They’re done’ – I think that helped (the Warriors) say, ‘Now we’re the underdog again. We’re back in a familiar place. We’re just going to go play.’”