The NBA’s Western Conference is truly the wild. There’s only a slight talent difference between the squads, and down to the wire contests are the norm.
With San Antonio a year older, some of the up-and-coming squads are looking to bust a bigger move than last season. Is this finally the season Memphis’ Bash Brothers get them to the Finals? Can CP3 and Doc Rivers get that ‘80s, Chuck Daley-Isiah Thomas flow rocking? Admirers of the long range game wonder if Steph Curry and Klay Thompson can shoot the Warriors into the money rounds come June.
As the NBA continues to highlight its young talent and bask in the development of burgeoning teams like Golden State and Portland, every night, young guns are creating history and introducing NBA fans to the legends of tomorrow.
When you have such talented squads going for each other’s jugulars, deep rivalries develop. The Oklahoma City Thunder-Golden State Warriors rivalry is quickly becoming one of the NBA’s dopest hookups. You have two teams with young, abrasive and ambitious studs, going at it like stray dogs in an alley.
This season, both meetings have been decided by a last second, clutch jumper. Mark Jackson’s ever-improving Golden State squad snatched the first game on November 14th (116-115) on Andre Iguodala's buzzer-beating J.
OKC came into this game thinking revenge and not only did they get it, they did it with a returned dagger, beating the Warriors 113-112 on a last second, off-balance jumper by Westbrook with 0.1 seconds left in OT. With Iguodala missing his fourth consecutive game with a left hamstring strain, there was no one to offset Westbrook, who has proved to be a machine-gun sized thorn in the side of the Warriors.
Westbrook’s game winner on Friday was his second go-ahead 3-pointer with less than three seconds left of the season against the Warriors.
This time, he didn’t leave any time on the clock for a GS return fire.
OKC coach Scott Brooks drew up the play to get Kevin Durant (25 points, 13 rebounds) the ball, but the NBA's scoring leader shanked a floater with 12 seconds left. Officials called the ball out on Golden State and used replay to confirm the call.
After the review, Serge Ibaka missed a 15-foot jump shot that was heading out of bounds before Thabo Sefolosha dove and in the air flipped the ball over his shoulder back inbounds to Westbrook, who, in one motion, grabbed the rock, positioned his body behind the three-point line and drilled net over Harrison Barnes (career-high 26 points) for the dramatic win.
Westbrook may still spazz with an itchy trigger finger at times, and Durant may be most fans’ choice to take those last second shots, but against Golden State, Westbrook is the man with the master plan.
Westbrook scored a season-high 34 points on 10-of-25 shooting leading the Thunder (11-3) to their sixth consecutive win and ninth straight at home to start the season.
"When he tells people about this one, he doesn't have to exaggerate it because there's no bigger fish story than what he did tonight," Brooks gushed.
If he could play the Warriors (9-8) everyday, Westbrook—not Durant—would be one of the leading candidates for NBA MVP. The rampaging, rim-wrecking combo guard is feasting on Golden State’s matador backcourt defense this season, averaging 32.6 ppg, shooting 51.0 percent and four steals against them. His averages drop to 18.8 ppg, 35.6 percent against the rest of the league.
Both teams were equally aggressive with shot selection. Curry was his same sharp-shooting self, going for 32 points and hitting four treys. Warriors leading scorer Thompson, however, wants a do-over. Thompson was on his Lil’ Troy—wanting to be a baller—but he missed 11 of his first 12 shots and finished 5-of-19 from the floor, including a shaky 2-of-9 from the arc. This time, Westbrook showed the deft touch from the outside.
Jump-shooting and shot-selection has been a well-criticized aspect of Westbrook’s game. But since returning from injury, he’s slowly regaining his full explosion. It’s clear that Westbrook is not a compromised player. If anything he's better, and the obvious improvement in his outside game adds another killer facet to OKC's arsenal.
“That was fun," said Durant, who missed four straight shots down the stretch in OT. "I was so excited for him. It's been a long time coming. He's been working on that. He had that confidence to take that shot, so I'm glad we won it.”
Golden State took an 82-76 lead into the fourth quarter, but missing 5-of-11 free throws, while the Thunder went 11-12 from the charity stripe, kept the game close enough for the odds to shift in OKC’s favor for that final shot.
If these are the type of nail-biter games we can expect moving forward, predicting NBA playoff outcomes will be harder and wilder than a Russell Westbrook burst to the basket.