Statistically speaking, a statement win means nothing. A buzzer beater over the Oklahoma City Thunder at home carries no greater weight than a blowout to top the Sacramento Kings. In binary terms, the Golden State Warriors will either win enough games for a playoff berth or they will not. Maybe the team performs well enough to earn home court advantage in the first round. That is all last night’s game meant in the grand scheme of things.
On the other hand, how cool was that?
The Warriors didn’t necessarily upset the Thunder Thursday night; several sports books had the Warriors favored by five. Judging by atmosphere and crowd reaction however, to call this anything other than an upset would be a disservice to a fan base accustomed to watching their team blow fourth quarter leads against top shelf teams. At least until last year and even then, no one has gotten used to the concept of having a winning team.
Heart attack wins over elite competition have been few and far between in Oracle Arena over the last half dozen regular seasons. Even if Golden State remains a flawed team – not enough rebounding, too many turnovers – shocking the Thunder with a last second dagger will be something the franchise hangs its hat on for the remainder of the season.
But there’s more to last night’s win (and Andre Iguodala’s performance) than a cold-hearted fade away from the baseline. The only reason Iguodala had the opportunity to take that shot was because of his defense. More specifically, his ability to stop Kevin Durant.
Iguodala has long been considered one of the league’s top perimeter defenders, possessing a skillset Golden State lacked and coveted for years. Strong shooters and slashers made mincemeat out of the defensive efforts offered by Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, Jarrett Jack and others. And among deadly wing shooters, Kevin Durant is the deadliest.
Across 22 matchups against the Warriors (including last night), Durant averaged an incredible 30 points, 8.6 rebounds and 5 assists per game. The Dubs historically porous defense helped the Oklahoma City forward convert at a remarkably efficient level as well; the career .632 true shooting Durant posted against Golden State is the second highest tally among any team he’s faced.
It was a different story last night. Durant scored 20 points on 5-of-13 shooting, hitting just two of his six three point attempts. Although he managed to make it to line nine times, his output on offense was only a fraction of what it could have been, thanks largely to Iguodala’s pestering defense.
Even when Oklahoma City launched a spirited comeback in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, it was only after Durant was forced into the role of facilitator. In the final five minutes, Iguodala managed to send KD into a help defender on two critical possessions; the first of which resulted in a change of possession, the second of which resulted in the Russell Westbrook three that almost won Oklahoma City the game.
Although impressive, Westbrook’s triple was also exactly the sort of shot Golden State wanted to the Thunder to take with that little time on the clock. Hurried, from deep and a low percentage look. Westbrook shot .323 from three last year, and even less efficient than that when he stepped three or four feet off the line. Had Westbrook missed, the Friday morning media scrum would have likely been all over Westbrook’s for his poor shot selection.
Again though, the only reason Westbrook took that shot was because Iguodala forced Durant’s hand, something he’s been doing for as long as KD’s been in the league. In the 11 games in which they’ve faced each other, Durant has shot .442 from the field, well off his career mark of .475.
Now, yes, Durant still had his moments. Hell, he got a slow-motion crossover clip out of it. But Iguodala is a smart player who takes a remarkable amount of pride in his ability to analyze his opponents’ approach on offense. Those little things matter. Especially on a team that wasn’t known for it’s defense until half a season ago.
As he told Matt Moore last year, “If I’m playing Kevin Durant, I’m not really freelancing too much, I’m just making sure he doesn’t get an easy look.”
Durant didn’t get an easy look last night and it paid off. How cool was that?
 The one exception is if Oklahoma City and Golden State finish the season with an identical record, in which case the team that won the X game regular season series will take the higher playoff seed.