Warriors topple Thunder for another elite win

Stephen Curry had a down night by his standards, but the Golden State Warriors still trounced the Oklahoma City Thunder with their deep bench.
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The Warriors’ historic 24–0 run to start the season was thrilling, but questions still lingered about how they would fare against elite competition.

Throughout that stretch, Golden State somehow avoided games against the Cavaliers, Spurs and Thunder. Well, since Dec. 25, the Warriors have played all three and answered every question—emphatically.

Saturday’s 116–108 home win against the Thunder not only preserved the Warriors’ unblemished 22–0 record at Oracle Arena and pushed them to 46–4 on the season, but it also continued a trend of trouncing title contenders. As we enter All-Star Weekend, the Warriors have played the Cavaliers, Spurs and Thunder, and they’ve beaten them all. 

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The way they went about their business changed—as did the margin of victory—on a game-to-game basis, but the result remained the same, and the Warriors walked away from yet another highly anticipated bout unscathed.  

On Christmas Day, Draymond Green’s 22 points and 15 rebounds propelled Golden State to a close win over the Cavaliers. Stephen Curry’s 37 points on Jan. 25 powered the Warriors against the Spurs. On Saturday night, when Curry and Green functioned more as facilitators early, it was the Warriors’ bench and ancillary parts that added the spark needed to withstand a solid comeback effort from the Thunder.

It was no surprise the Thunder were prepared to play from the onset. Oklahoma City had heard about the Warriors for quite some time. More intrigue surrounded the game after Curry said he could potentially end the weekend with ‘a win and a win’ if his Warriors defeated the Thunder and the Panthers defeated the Broncos in Super Bowl 50.

Curry’s first shot at a perfect weekend did not have the pristine start he expected, as Oklahoma City rushed out to a 9–0 run. As one would expect, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook either scored or assisted every point of that stretch. But the Warriors’ answer, which featured a heavy dose of Harrison Barnes, set the stage for the others—those not named Green, Curry, or Klay Thompson—and they would not relinquish the spotlight until late in the fourth quarter.

Barnes, who scored nine of the Warriors’ first 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting, finished the night with a quiet 19 points. Similar stretches included Leandro Barbosa, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights, whose outside shot made him a matchup nightmare. It figures that the Warriors bench outscored Oklahoma City's second unit, 42–17.

Look at that long list of players and consider only two players heavily contributed to the Thunder: Durant and Westbrook. The Thunder stars combined for 67 points, 17 rebounds, and 17 assists. That kind of production from your stars should net a win. It doesn’t translate directly to a victory, however, when the players around them are not net positives. Westbrook’s willingness to find teammates led to productive nights for Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, but Serge Ibaka only attempted five shots as the team’s third-best player. 

Contrast that to the Warriors, who spread out the wealth better than any team in the league, and you’ll see individual talent take a backseat to shared depth. Curry is the MVP, and he played like it down the stretch, but he was basically carried there by teammates.

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In fact, Curry started the game slowly, struggled from the three-point line and needed to take a trip to the locker room to take care of a bloody nose. And down the stretch, it was the Warriors’ passing that helped end the game on a 12–4 run after being tied at 104 with 3:25 left in the fourth quarter. 

The Warriors scored six field goals after that mark. With the exception of Curry’s insane pull-up jumper over Durant, every Warriors score came on an assist. At the other end, Durant and Westbrook each missed hero three-point looks and the Thunder faded.

Curry provided heroics of his own on this night. He posted 26 points and 10 assists and added a dab and raised the roof for good measure. But after all the flash was done, Livingston told ESPN’s “SportsCenter” crew how Warriors starters so often set the tone for their bench. Golden State’s others did that Saturday night, and the NBA’s top team picked up another statement win against one of the league’s best.