That’s the only way to describe the attitude of the Golden State Warriors as they headed into a must-win Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. A disappointing performance on the road in Oklahoma resulted in some heavy losses, and for the first time in twelve months, it appeared that the seemingly unbeatable Warriors wouldn’t even make it back to the Finals to try defend their crown. Setting NBA records during the regular season counts for nothing unless you end the season with a ring on your finger, and the Warriors know that.
The defensive effort from OKC has been the key in forcing the defending NBA champions into turning the ball over, resulting in transitions points. Known as being one of the fastest teams in the league when it comes to offense, Golden State have been left in the dust of the Thunder throughout this series, as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have pushed their team into the stratosphere.
The biggest problem for opposition teams facing the Warriors this season has been guarding the Dubs’ shooters off the switch, leaving a big man to cover Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson. Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka have had no problem not only getting out to Curry and Thompson, but they have even been blocking their shots and getting into the heads two guys capable of changing the game. But in Game 5, early foul trouble sent Adams to the bench, and unleashed the long range attack from the home team.
After trying to bring his team back from the dead in Game 4, it was Thompson who lead the team during the first quarter of Game 5, knocking down 9 points – all from beyond the arc – but that persistence that OKC have shown throughout the conference finals was still there as they didn’t let the home team get away from them easily.
After a horrible performance in Game 4, with many raising concerns over his health, Curry found his groove in Game 5 midway through the second term, stringing together a series of baskets and bringing Dub Nation to life inside ‘Roaracle’. But as much as Curry fired away, Durant was doing the same thing at the other end of the floor.
“The road team can feel the roof coming in a little bit with the home team goes on those 6-0, or 8-0 runs,” said Curry. “The adrenaline rush is amazing. That’s why it’s so important to secure home court advantage, because you usually play better at home.”
After their defensive efforts, the next biggest thing for the Thunder in this series has been their consistency on the offensive end. Time and time again we have seen Golden State get on a run and bury their opponent within the space of five minutes, but OKC have not let that happen. Every time the Dubs start to make a run, the Thunder respond with big shots at the other end, and Game 5 was no exception as OKC kept in touch, but could not make the jump out into the lead.
Anthony Morrow had only played a total of 15 minutes, predominantly in garbage time in this series, but coach Billy Donovan changed up his squad during the second quarter and Morrow made an immediate impact. Dropping 7 points through some huge shots, and shutting down Shaun Livingston on the defensive end, Morrow was the extra injection of scoring needed to keep his team in the game as they headed into the long break down by 8 points.
“He came off the bench and gave us a real boost,” said Donovan. “His points really helped us.”
The third term opened with a 9-2 run from the visitors, courtesy of some sloppy play on both ends of the floor from Draymond Green, resulting in screaming match between the Warriors big man and a referee — and a consequent technical foul. What ensued was a shootout between four of the best players in the league. Westbrook vs Thompson, Curry vs Durant. The superstars were pushing to give their team the advantage. But for every big shot, there was an equally as big response and it was just a 4-point game heading into the fourth quarter.
Speaking about getting the technical foul after the game, Green said that he just wanted to be himself if he was going to get called for technicals on trivial decisions.
“After that (the technical foul) it was just like, If I’m going to try not to get a tech and I’m still going to get a tech, then I’m just going to be me, you know. I’m not going to worry about all the rest of the stuff, you know, I’m not going to try to be sensitive to this, and sensitive to this. If I’m going to get a tech for that, then I might as well just be me anyway.”
The defending champions opened the final quarter with what can only be described as crunch time experience. Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes are used to performing under playoff pressure, and rose to the occasion pushing the Dubs lead out beyond ten points with some big baskets to open the term. Taking the place of Andrew Bogut on the floor, Mo Speights added 5 points including three from the free throw line to build on their lead, but Westbrook and his team mates weren’t done yet.
“We got a lot of good contributions from down the roster,” remarked Warriors’ coach Kerr post game. “It’s fun to seen the bench play well.”
Ibaka and Westbrook continued to hit clutch shots throughout the quarter keeping their team in touch, and silencing the otherwise deafening Warriors fans. But it was Curry who closed out the game for the home team knocking down a couple of shots from close range as well as some free throws to push it beyond reach for the Thunder in the final minutes of the game.
“This is a championship team, they’ve been through a lot over the last couple of years and always responded well. This is exactly what I expected,” said Kerr.
Billy Donovan was proud of his teams efforts in a tough game on the road.
“Our guys got back in to range, we had out opportunities. I give our guys credit, they battled and fought the whole entire game, and when you go on the road and play it’s not going to always be smooth and easy.”
“We did what we’re supposed to do” said Steph Curry. “We’re supposed to win at home. We took advantage of the opportunity to stay alive and force Game 6.”
A key for the Warriors, outside of Curry and Thompson leading the way on the scoreboard, was Bogut. Playing restricted minutes so far this series after suffering an injury against the Portland Trailblazers, Bogut was back to his best on Thursday night. The big man pulled down 15 rebounds and added 15 points, as he showed no signs of being restricted in movement, and returned to the form that had him featured on highlight reels during the first half of the season.
Kerr praised the work of the Australian after the victory.
“Bogues was phenomenal. He rebounded, he scored, he was aggressive. We went in to him on the post to get him as a passer with our cutters around him and he was tremendous.
“Rebounding is an issue for everyone against OKC so when he can play that way and rebound the ball like that, it just gives us a much better chance to win the game.”
Draymond Green reiterated the importance of Bogut on this Warriors team post game.
“When Bogey Man’s on the floor we use his physicality on the defensive end, and he was good on the offensive end as well. If we’re going to come back and win this series, we’re going to need him to continue to play that way. Which I have no doubt in my mind that he will”
Billy Donovan also had some positive words for the Warriors’ big man.
“He played well. We struggled with Steven (Adams) off the floor with foul trouble, but Bogut contributed well for their team.”
With Durant and Westbrook taking the majority of shots this series for the Thunder, questions have been asked if they feel that this is good for the team, and do they get too much into their own bubble and forget about their team mates. Durant scoffs at the idea.
“That’s who we are. We gotta be aggressive. That’s how we play, and if we made 4 or 5 more shots, we wouldn’t be talking about this. You don’t say anything when we make them (the shots), so why say it when we miss.”
Their desperation got them over the line in this game, but it was not an easy win by the Dubs by any stretch of the imagination. OKC were in this game up until the final minute of the game, and never looked like they were out of the contest. Heading back to Oklahoma in another must win contest, Golden State still have a mountainous task in front of them if they want to advance to the Finals. But as we have seen with this team in the past, anything is possible.
“The Thunder played extremely hard and very well, we had to play very well to fend them off, and we did, and it was a great fight,” said Kerr.
Durant says that his team can’t relax in Game 6 just because they are playing at home.
“We know that we’re going back home, but we can’t relax. We’ve gotta keep our foot on the gas and we’ve gotta play much better. We were in a slug fest tonight, we’ve gotta bring that energy back home.”
Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals will take place on Saturday in Oklahoma City.
Feature image – Basketball Insiders