If ever you get sick of hearing about the character of the Thunder, about how the players genuinely get along, or how they’re good for the community, Monday’s game served as a reminder of the shade of green that lies on the other side.
Golden State, in 48 minutes, should have shown you all you needed to thank the basketball gods after every game for the type of players being gathered in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder has a locker room filled with 20-somethings who understand the meaning of team. They play hard and they play for each other. They spend time off the court and they do their damndest to ensure everyone excels on it.
Golden State is a franchise in turmoil.
Center Mikki Moore, on one possession, adamantly argued a personal foul call, what would have been his third. He never showed that he cared that when the ref changed the call it wound up being Stephen Curry’s fourth foul and made the more important player sit. Later, Moore looked truly ticked when Anthony Randolph snared a board away from him in the second half. And then there was guard Monta Ellis, who took 28 shots, had nine turnovers, two assists and the nerve to still callously clap his hands to demand the ball from his teammates — only one of which had more than nine field-goal attempts.
Notice the Thunder’s shot distribution: Kevin Durant 24, Russell Westbrook 17, Jeff Green 16, James Harden 13. There was a possession in the first half when two Thunder players battled under the boards and the refs didn’t know which player ultimately tipped in a shot and deserved the trip to the foul line for the And One. Green attempted to clear up the mess by voluntarily pointing to Nick Collison instead of taking the credit.
The Warriors never displayed that teamwork and never seemed to care about winning this game. Padding stats and preventing injury was perhaps the main items on their mental game plans. I actually felt bad for Curry as I watched him glide through this game and his rookie season on a team so polluted.
Meanwhile, Thunder rookie James Harden nets 26 points with nine rebounds, both career-highs, because teammates like Durant, Green and Westbrook are encouraging him to shoot more and play second fiddle less. Players like Thabo Sefolosha and Nenad Krstic can score a combined nine points on seven shot attempts and be completely satisfied because they know a 16-point win feels better than a 16-point blowout so long as they got theirs.
It’s easy to refuse the Thunder’s rhetoric. Easy to roll your eyes when GM Sam Presti takes the mic at an introductory press conference and touts a player’s character while his career numbers appear crummy.
But contaminated clubs like the Warriors team that Walked into the Ford Center on Monday night proved that Oklahoma City has something special on its hands.
Thunder fans should be thanking the basketball gods.
- Surprise, surprise, Jeff Green played well and the Thunder won. Green had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the first half and finished with 21 points and 13 boards. I think Oklahoma City has found its X-Factor.
- Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were a combined 5-for-20 from the field for 11 points in the first half. They finished with a combined 40 points.
- James Harden had a career-high 26 points with a 13 made free throws on 14 attempts, both career-highs as well. He added a career-high nine rebounds and five assists, two steals and didn’t turn the ball over.
- I thought Nick Collison helped turn the tide early with his energy in the game after the Thunder came out flat and Golden State got out to a nice lead with easy buckets.
- I remember a debate about whether Stephen Curry would make a good pro. The kid just knows how to play basketball. I think he’ll be around for a long time.
- The Thunder outscored the Warriors 29-18 in the third quarter. OKC closed the period on a 16-5 run after Corey Maggette was whistled for a technical foul with 4:07 remaining in the quarter.
- The 57-37 rebounding advantage for the Thunder was huge. The advantage was 15-3 on the offensive end and it led to a 16-6 advantage in second-chance points.
- OKC contested shots well tonight and held the Warriors to 4-for-13 shooting from the 3-point line.
- The Warriors had just 12 assists and committed 20 turnovers.
- C.J. Watson and Monta Ellis played the entire game. Kind of makes me think it’s no big deal that Kevin Durant once again played 45 minutes.
- Shaun Livingston looked poised in the backup role tonight. He might be about to take over that role from Mike Wilks. I talked to him about it after the game and he said he’s ambitious and eager to prove he still has it. We’re about to find out.
THEY SAID IT
- Scott Brooks on the win: “We gutted out that win. We didn’t have our best stuff, and they had some players that were missing. But we competed and it’s not always going to be pretty basketball. But defensively, I thought we got after it.”
- Brooks on James Harden: “He was terrific. He was getting into the paint, making plays and he finished strong a couple times and got to the free throw line and made some passes.”
- Warriors acting head coach Keith Smart: “The Thunder is 9-0 when they get over 100 points so we tried to keep it just under there. But when you have 20 turnovers, you’re not going to have a chance against anyone.”
- Harden on his performance: “I’m getting a better feel of this game and just being aggressive. Coach told me all week to be aggressive and that’s what I came out to do.”
- Jeff Green on the team’s hustle and rebounding: “It was very important. It kept us in the game. The way they were shooting the ball we needed an extra boost.”
- Green on Shaun Livingston: “He’s a veteran player. He knows what to do when he comes in the game. He’s a true point guard. He got his hands on some balls and some key steals which led to some easy buckets on the offensive end.”
- Kevin Durant on 11-9 record after 20 games: “We could have won a lot of games. We could have won 14 of those and been 14-6. That would have been good for 20 games. But that’s the best thing about this league, we learn from our mistakes and we have a game right around the corner…But I think it’s a better start than we had last year so I’ll take that.”
- Durant on the 3-2 homestand: “First of all I’m glad we got a winning record at home. It’s very important to hold down your home. We could have done a lot better, but all in all I think we got better as time went on. We won games we needed to win and I think we played better.”
BY THE NUMBERS
14: Free throws by James Harden, a career-high.
19: Biggest lead by Oklahoma City.
22: Points by Warriors rookie Stephen Curry, a career-high.
26: Points by Harden, a career-high.
48: Minutes played by Warriors guards Monta Ellis and C.J. Watson.
57: Rebounds by the Thunder.
88: Points by the Warriors, a season-low for Golden State.
17,334: Announced attendance at the Ford Center.