Heading into game 5 it was do or die for Golden State. A loss would mean a gloomy start to their vacation, a win provides the right to fight another day. This is, by far, the most pressure this team has faced all season. A sense of adversity, urgency, and desperation that nothing, this year had prepared them for.
The Thunder, meanwhile, commanded a comfortable 3-1 series lead after having annihilated Golden State, in every sense of the word, two games in a row on their home court. Not that this game is not important, but given the circumstances they have much less to press or rack their nerves over. A loss would mean an opportunity to close the series at home, a situation that players dream about from their earliest playing days. A chance to become conference champions in front of thousands of roaring fans cheering you on. Two of the most exciting offensive teams featuring some of the most prolific scorers in all of basketball dueling in Oracle under circumstances nearly opposite of the other. One hoping just to stay alive needing to win three in a row, the other attempting to be the first team to earn the right to play in the NBA Finals.
So The Warriors, with their backs against the wall, in desperate need of win would attempt to defend their home court hoping to bring them one step closer to the highly improbable. Harrison Barnes would score the first points of the game on a three-pointer getting the crowd immediately into it. However, other than that the Warriors looked pretty shaky like the gravity of the situation was vibrating through their nerves. Draymond Green had two unforced turnovers in the first three minutes of the game in a manner that can only be described as jittery ball handling. Klay Thompson missed his first two threes in the game on very quick shots. Curry’s first two points came on a Roberson foul, the second Warrior to score after Durant made a jumper. The scoring was back and forth for the first seven points, but after that the Warriors seemed to shake some of the jitters off and get it going.
After a 7-7 tie to get things started the Warriors would push a 15-5 run to open up a 10 point lead in the 1st quarter. In the midst of the run OKC had a three minute field goal drought which was eventually ended by a Durant jumper. Then followed the careless basketball that has troubled them all series. By the end of the quarter the Thunder would only be down 25-21. Despite the fact the solid Warriors defense held OKC to 28% shooting, while Golden State shot 47% from the field, OKC was only down four points because they had nine more shot attempts, 8/28, than GS, 9/19. Five turnovers and offensive rebounds being the main culprit. Mo Speights came off the bench for Golden State to start the second quarter and went right to work. He scored the first Warrior points of the period on a layup where he was fouled by Kanter to create a three-point play. After the ball went in he could be seen walking to the line screaming, “GIVE ME THE BALL! FEED ME THE BALL!”.
His performance, on any given night, can fluctuate as much as possible in this league. When he’s on he will shoot every time he touches the ball almost immediately, and make it the majority of the time. But when he’s off he will still shoot almost every time he touches it, but hit at an extremely poor percentage. What never changes is his level of confidence or his desire to shoot the ball. He made two shots, both while being fouled, and made the free throw to go with on both of them. The Thunder had an answer of their own from the bench in the form of former Warrior Anthony Morrow.
Morrow is the kind of guy who can also get as hot as anyone in the league from anywhere on the floor. Right off the bench he shot 3 of 3 with 7 points including a three. Three minutes into the second quarter Speights and Morrow had done almost all the scoring. 9 points on 3 of 3 shooting for Speights, including a three, and the 7 for Morrow. The only two other baskets coming from a jumper from Shaun Livingston and a three from Durant. The duration of the second quarter continued as a back and forth battle, neither team putting up more than four unanswered points. The Warriors outscored OKC by four points for the second straight quarter doubling the first quarter lead to eight points. At half time Klay Thompson led all scorers with 16 on 6 of 13 shooting, but just 1 of 5 from beyond the arc. Curry had 11 points on 4 of 8 shooting, but also made just one three in four attempts. It was Andrew Bogut who came out and provided some offense that Golden State was not typically accustomed to going 5 for 6 with 10 points, a large total for him, especially in one half. Bogut and Draymond both had 8 rebounds, an area they desperately needed to improve on in this series if they were to come back and win it. Both the Warriors and the Thunder had 24 rebounds at halftime. Durant had 15 points at the half, 13 from Westbrook as he continued his much improved three point shooting in the series going 2 of 4 from deep in the half.
Throughout the series, aside from one game, the start of the second half in the third quarter Golden State would outperform the Thunder. With OKC down eight points Thunder head coach, Donovan, made a point to urge his team to alter that in this game. Ibaka opened the second half with a three, then Bogut answered with two. On the ensuing drive Draymond committed a bone-headed foul that many are becoming accustomed to, fouling Durant on a three-pointer, then received his fifth technical foul of these playoffs. Durant hit all four free throws as a result cutting the deficit to three points. From there OKC slowly chipped away at the eight-point deficit they started the third quarter with. Finally, half way through the third quarter OKC took their first lead of the night on a Westbrook three, the score 67-68. That wouldn’t last long as the Warriors would take the lead right back, and hold it the remainder of the quarter with the lead fluctuating between one and seven points, ending with a four-point Warriors lead.
OKC outscored Golden State 27-23 in the quarter with Durant and Westbrook combining for 18 of their 27 points. To start the fourth quarter the Warriors opened on an 8-0 run to push the lead to 12. For the next six minutes the lead sat between 10 and 13 points. OKC had an 11-4 run late in the fourth to cut the lead to six, and that would be as close as they would come to winning. Twice they came within six points, but weren’t able to come up with more. After an Anthony Morrow three made it 118-111, they forced a turnover, Westbrook pulled down an offensive rebound on a missed shot and kicked it out to Durant who had a good look at a three, but he came up empty. With Golden State pulling in the rebound that was the end. The Warriors came out playing much harder in the areas that they needed to overcome. For the second time in this series they were not out rebounded, and for the second time this series they won. They also outscored OKC in the paint 48-30. The three wasn’t falling as well as they hoped, and they made the adjustments and finished inside.
The GS bench also outscored OKC bench 30-13 with Mo Speights scoring 14 points in just 8 minutes of play. Draymond Green, 4 blocks, and Andrew Bogut, 2 blocks, provided much needed rim protection in an attempt to make taking the ball to the hole more of a daunting task for Westbrook. Stephen Curry finished the game with 31 points, the Warriors being undefeated in the playoffs when he does so, on 9 of 20 shooting, 3 of 8 from deep, 10 of 10 from the line with 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals. Bogut had a double-double with 15 points, 7 of 9, with 14 rebounds, both playoff highs. Klay had 27 points on 8 of 21 shooting, 2 of 9 from deep, and 9 of 10 from the line. Despite the fact that the splash Bros were just 5 of 17 from beyond the arc they proved again they can find ways to win with hard play if the outside shot isn’t working. Durant led all scorers with 40 points on 12 of 31 shooting, and hit all 13 free throws. Westbrook had 31 points on 11 of 28 shooting.
With one of three remaining games out of the way, Golden State must now go win one in OKC. The Thunder had limited help from their bench, and role players do tend to play better on their home court. The confidence of a bounce back victory could propel the Warriors to take one in the Thunder’s house, but then again, OKC knowing they came so close, in Oakland, to ending it in a hard fought match, that could give them the confidence to close it at home.
However, one minor detail could benefit Golden State, and that is that, now, game 6 could be seen as a must-win for both teams, not just the Warriors. The Thunder losing game 6 erases the series lead as if they never had one, and sends them back to the toughest arena in all of basketball for away teams to attempt a victory.
A loss eliminates all Thunder momentum and puts it completely in the Warriors hands with the opportunity to win on their home court in front of their home fans. So now they will play game 6 in Chesapeake Arena in, what is sure to be, another exciting matchup.