After getting through the first two rounds of the playoffs in just 10 games, which followed up a record-setting 73-win season, the Golden State Warriors badly need a victory. It might not be a “must-win” situation for the defending champs, but a loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals could put them in a hole from which Steph Curry and Co. won’t be able to dig themselves out of.
Having won 45 of 47 games at Oracle Arena, the Warriors dropped Game 1, despite being significant favorites. Golden State has bounced back from every one of its losses this season, and Monday might simply have been a blip on the radar before the Warriors win their second straight championship. But there are plenty of reasons for Golden State to be concerned, and all signs point to this being a long and hard fought series.
Golden State led for most of Game 1, ultimately relinquishing what was once a 14-point lead in the beginning of the fourth quarter. Even as Kevin Durant struggled to find his shot in the final 12 minutes, the Thunder won by taking advantage of the Warriors’ mistakes on offense. Curry went just one-of-six from the floor in the fourth quarter, and Klay Thompson didn’t make a field goal during the final period.
The Warriors ended the game with 14 turnovers, including seven from Curry, and Golden State's offense was out of sorts without their top two scorers shooting in rhythm.
"I do think we lost our poise a little bit," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Game 1. "And that had a lot to do with the quick shots."
Thompson is likely to improve on his Game 1 performance that saw him need 25 shots to score 25 points, but the biggest question lies with Curry. The first ever unanimous MVP has admitted that his knee still isn’t 100 percent, and the Warriors could be in trouble if the MCL sprain has a noticeable impact on his performance for the entire series.
Curry didn’t use the injury as an excuse, and his numbers were impressive by most standards—he was three assists shy of a triple double. But he wasn’t the same player that had an historic regular season. Despite making six of 14 three pointers, Curry wasn’t able to take over in the fourth quarter like he has in the past, committing key turnovers when trying to create plays for others. Whether it was the injury or the defense of Russell Westbrook, the Warriors could be in trouble if Curry doesn’t play better.
Having to play without Curry for much of the playoffs, the Warriors proved that they are still better than most teams even when the point guard isn’t dominating. But the Thunder are on a level ahead of the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers, and Oklahoma City won even as Westbrook and Kevin Durant had their own struggles on Monday.
Curry played well for the first three quarters, and Westbrook came alive in the second half. But the major difference was in the frontcourt, as Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Serge Ibaka got the better of Golden State’s bigs. Even with Draymond Green as the center of the Warrior’s “death lineup,” which has often been Golden State’s trump card, the Thunder went big and got the better of the Warriors’ smaller five-man unit.
The Warriors were out-rebounded 52-44 as Andrew Bogut was limited to 17 minutes with a groin injury and Festus Ezeli was ineffective. Green scored 23 points, but he had just five rebounds in 40 minutes. The Thunder had a 19-point advantage when Adams was on the court, and the Warriors were minus-six in Bogut’s limited playing time.
Despite the result of Monday’s game, Golden State is an 8.5-point favorite in Game 2, via VegasInsider. After the Warriors were limited to 105 points in Game 1, their lowest total in four games against the Thunder this season, the over/under is 221.5 points.
Oklahoma City might have found the best way to counteract Golden State’s seemingly unbeatable lineup, and they could even pull off the upset after a long series. But it’s reasonable to expect a bounce-back performance from the Warriors, who haven’t lost consecutive games all year.
Even if Curry’s knee is affecting him, he still shot a respectable percentage from three-point range. Adams and Kanter have been very effective in the postseason, but their inability to guard the perimeter will come back to hurt the Thunder if the Warriors make threes like they have all season long.
The Thunder have accomplished what they needed to by taking home-court advantage from the Warriors, and winning two straight games at Oracle Arena might be too much to ask.
Prediction: Golden State over Oklahoma City, 120-111