Instant classic: Stephen Curry stuns Thunder with breathtaking finish
Let’s start with how this one ended to get it out of the way. There are just under 30 seconds left in the game, which is tied 118–118 in overtime. Kevin Durant fouled out, and so the Thunder give it to Russell Westbrook who finds backboard, no twine, on a go-ahead leaner. Andre Iguodala grabs the board for the Warriors with roughly six seconds left. Golden State has a timeout. Nobody calls one. This is because the ball finds the hands of Stephen Curry, the baddest gunslinger on either side of the Mississippi. When Curry catches the ball, he is parallel to his team’s coach's box.
The thing they all say about Curry is you’d better guard that man the second he crosses half-court, just to be safe. The other thing about him is, there’s not a single chance anyone else is shooting this ball. And by the time Curry takes three casual dribbles and pulls up, you realize all five members of the Thunder are back on defense, above the three-point line, which is, of course, nowhere near him. Curry lets go of the ball about halfway between half-court and the other coach's box, some 30 feet out, and just like the shots he practices before every single game, it goes in. We will eventually catch our breaths and look back at Curry’s career, and this season, wherever Golden State’s possible-record record finishes. It might be “The Shot” now. Name it yourself. You’ll be seeing it all again.
The fact it fell meant a few things:
1) The Warriors beat the Thunder 121–118, in overtime of their sixth game in nine days on a road trip that hit both coasts, in an arena where they were 1–11 in their last 12 stops.
2) Curry scored 46 points, and tied the record for most threes made in an NBA game with 12.
3) Curry broke his own record for threes made in a season with 287. It’s February.
4) The Warriors are now 53–5 with 24 games to go, and 5) they actually clinched a playoff spot sometime in the middle of the second half, when the Rockets fell to the Spurs in Houston.
Got all that? Exhale. Let’s talk about the Thunder, who provided the stiffest challenge for the Warriors of any opponent in any of those 58 games since they won the championship eight or so months ago. Durant scored 37 points with 12 rebounds, Westbrook had 26 points and 13 assists and one big opportunity slipped through their fingers in a darkly ethereal manner. Before Curry gave Golden State the lead, only its second of the game (and the first lasted no longer than one possession), a gung-ho Westbrook sniffed out a block and instead hacked Klay Thompson for a mid-air, and-one, allowing the Warriors to tie it. That said, he was directly responsible for 11 of his team’s 15 overtime points, comfortably dictating the pecking order for shots after Durant fouled out.
And it took us this long to get to Durant, who was utterly phenomenal for the first 47 minutes and 45 seconds of the game, capped by what appeared to be a game-sealing three-ball for a four-point lead. One Thompson layup later, and there was Durant, trapped in the corner off an inbound, launching a Hail Mary to half-court for a last-second turnover, and recovering just in time to foul Iguodala and set up two nervy free throws to send things to overtime. Durant’s last-ditch runner hit rim, and his sixth foul came on Curry less than a minute into the extra period.
Really, as push came to shove, the Thunder reverted to their familiar late-game ways with their two forces of nature taking turns pounding out the clock, often times leading to late, difficult shots and occasionally resulting in the right plays. Perhaps it can’t be called reverting anymore, with Billy Donovan now at the helm, role players having come and gone and the two-gun style persisting. But to otherwise nitpick what had been a well-executed effort throughout would be remiss.
The Thunder turned it over 22 times, twice as many as their opponents, but nevertheless cracked the code for nearly as long as necessary to win. The things they did right, defensively and matchup-wise will stand as either a massive boost come postseason or a death blow to their confidence, with two losses in two games to the team nobody of substance can seem to figure out. Oklahoma City has now lost four of five after the All-Star break … but you reckon they’ll be alright.
At this stage, the Warriors are also who they are, and Curry is who he is. He is also now the first player to ever hit 10 three-pointers in consecutive games, and the first to ever hit 10 three-pointers more than once in a season. He cut a 10-point second-quarter Thunder lead to one, checking in with 5:52 to go and Durant on the bench. By the time Durant could make it back into the game (4:24), Curry had hit three contested threes, assisted on a layup, and essentially started the game for real, a game that had opened with a 16–5 Thunder run and at that point was firmly not his to win. Trying to recap an instant classic does not do justice to the difficulty of the other eleven bombs he drained.
Not one other longball-happy Warrior had sunk one from distance until Curry found Thompson for a corner three in the final minute. Golden State was outrebounded 62–32. Draymond Green scored just two points, shot 0-of-8 from the field, and was at the center of a strange halftime mini-controversy when Lisa Salters linked him to a profane, frustrated locker-room rant that echoed around the arena tunnels for all to hear (to be fair, what other Warrior would it have been?) The handful of minutes Curry spent in the locker room following an ankle injury and the stunted Warriors possessions they brought—the negative space, so to speak—said just as much. For a Twilight Zone-moment, the season spun in limbo.
But in a manner even the oldest of old heads and retired critics could appreciate, Curry’s fingerprints were everywhere when needed most. His once-fragile and still-crucial ankle mattered little. He is fulcrum and hammer, preserving the balance and delivering the necessary force. And so go the Warriors, with 17 of 24 remaining games at Oracle Arena and one final stretch to navigate. Sound sweet? The Warriors host the Thunder for the final time … on Thursday. C’est la vie.