The Oklahoma City Thunder entered Wednesday’s contest against the Golden State Warriors a perfect 29-0 when leading after three quarters. With a closer like Kevin Durant in the fold, that statistic isn’t surprising.
But not even Durant could stop the Warriors from becoming the first team to best the Thunder after trailing through three. Despite a stretch in the third and fourth quarters that saw Golden State score just eight points in ten minutes, the Warriors beat Oklahoma City 104-99 in front of a raucous crowd at Oracle Arena. The win puts Golden State at 26-15 exactly halfway through the season.
Durant got his, as he is wont to do, finishing with 33 points. But the Warriors’ defense rose to the challenge in virtually every other area. Russell Westbrook scored just ten, 13 below his season average. When Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket from the field late in the game, Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli and company kept the team close enough to strike once the shots finally started falling again.
“Our defense responded in the second half,” Mark Jackson said of the unit that held the Thunder to only 36 percent shooting in the second half. “We defended at a high level.”
Jackson also singled out Ezeli as a marquee performer.
“It’s easy to forget this is only his 41st game,” the coach said.
On offense, it was a tale of two games for All-Star hopeful Stephen Curry. The Warriors’ point guard couldn’t miss in the early going, draining difficult shot after difficult shot with ease. Then, someone turned the faucet off. Curry finished with 31 points, but only hit 11-of-27 shots from the field, including just 3-of-14 from beyond the arc. At one point, Curry missed three consecutive treys on one offensive possession. Throw that in the time capsule, because you won’t see it very often, considering Curry is the league’s best three-point shooter.
Curry’s half-off night was masked by a pair of solid performances off the bench, most notably Carl Landry, who finished with 20 points. Every one of Jarrett Jack’s nine points came at a juncture when the team needed them badly.
When asked after the game “what kind of team” he thinks he has, Jackson paused before calling the Warriors “a very good basketball team.” The way Golden State performed in the season’s first half, it’s hard not to agree with Jackson. The Warriors are the only team in the league to have beaten the Thunder, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Miami Heat. That becomes even more impressive when you remember Golden State has downed the Clips three times. So yes, if there was any lingering doubt, the Warriors are not going away any time soon.
The game rounded out a five game stretch for the Warriors that saw them play four of the best teams in all of basketball, and an opponent playing tremendous basketball of late in the New Orleans Hornets. Tasked with taking on the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs, Hornets, Clippers and Thunder in succession–while nursing a pair of key injuries, to boot–Golden State went 3-2 and saved their two best performances for the Clippers and Thunder on back-to-back nights. This is a team that, if it can remain healthy, is built for a run beyond the first round of the postseason.
Up next are the still Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls, the first in a string of east coast road contests for the Warriors. By the time that game tips off on Friday evening, Golden State should have an All-Star or two. David Lee will more than likely be headed to Houston, and Stephen Curry has an outside shot–no pun intended. Even if Curry fails to garner his proper recognition, though, it’s hard not to argue that the first half of the 2012-13 season has been anything but a rousing success.
The question now, of course is “Can they keep it up?”