Despite being without Kevin Durant due to an ankle injury, the Golden State Warriors dominated the Oklahoma City Thunder 110-88 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City on Saturday night.
Golden State improved to 47-21 and clinched a playoff berth with the win for a franchise-record seventh straight season.
Warriors guard Stephen Curry led all scorers with 33 points to go along with seven rebounds and three assists. He was aided by teammate Klay Thompson, who chipped in 23 points of his own.
While Paul George was productive in defeat for the Thunder with 29 points and 13 rebounds, guard Russell Westbrook had arguably his worst game of the season, finishing with seven points on 2-of-16 shooting, as well as nine assists and eight rebounds.
Westbrook was also called for a technical foul, and he will be forced to serve a one-game suspension since it was his 16th of the season unless it is rescinded by the NBA, according to Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:
Here come the silly fouls after no-calls. First on Paul George, then Russell Westbrook.— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) March 17, 2019
Westbrook gets a technical foul after the play. Should be his 16th unless any are rescinded in the next update from the NBA, which means Westbrook would have to served a one-game suspension.
The tech came when Westbrook argued with an official after expressing his belief that he had been fouled:
Russ earned his 16th tech of the season vs. the Warriors.— ESPN (@espn) March 17, 2019
If it’s not rescinded, he’ll be suspended 1 game and fined $5,000. pic.twitter.com/v0Vr0opqSg
Fresh off a thrilling 106-104 road win over the Houston Rockets with KD on the shelf, the Warriors were the better team from start to finish Saturday. Golden State dropped 40 points in the opening quarter and held a 13-point lead after 12 minutes of play, which it never relinquished.
With a 16-point advantage entering the fourth quarter, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was able to get the likes of Shaun Livingston, Quinn Cook, Alfonzo McKinnie and Jordan Bell ample playing time off the bench, but OKC was still unable to close the gap.
Golden State won the season series over Oklahoma City 2-1 by virtue of Saturday's victory, and the Dubs made it clear there is a significant gap between the top team and the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.
Even without arguably their best player in Durant, the Warriors had the look of a team that is ready to run through the West en route to a fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.
Durant's Absence Aiding in Golden State's Playoff Preparation
The Warriors may not be a better team when Durant is out of the lineup, but with him sitting Saturday, Golden State appeared more focused and efficient than it has been in weeks.
Essentially everything ran through Curry offensively against OKC, and that worked in the Warriors' favor. The ball movement was crisp and fluid, and the Thunder had a difficult time finding answers on the defensive end:
Because Durant is such a dynamic one-on-one player, there are times when the Warriors fall into the trap of letting him go iso, which can adversely impact their offensive sets. Since the temptation wasn't present Saturday, Golden State spread the ball around and got 12 different players on the scoresheet.
While Durant is on the verge of returning, his two-game absence may be beneficial in the long term since it allowed the Warriors to find their offensive rhythm.
It isn't often that a team can still thrive without a two-time NBA Finals MVP in the lineup, but the Warriors have done just that due to Curry's presence, per KNBR's Gary Radnich:
#Warriors now 25-1 in games Steph Curry plays and Durant sits...any doubt who is the Warriors MVP ?— Gary Radnich (@GaryRadnich) March 17, 2019
Along with their excellence on the offensive end, the Warriors seemed to be engaged on defense from start to finish, holding the Thunder to a season-low 88 points.
The Athletic's Marcus Thompson pointed out that Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green all had excellent defensive performances:
Klay’s Iguodala And Draymond are CLAMPING— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) March 17, 2019
The fact that Durant has been named NBA Finals MVP in each of the past two seasons proves the Warriors are largely a better team with him, and there is no question that his impending return is a scary proposition for opposing teams considering how Golden State played Saturday.
Curry and Co. showed they are playoff-ready against OKC, and they also offered a glimpse of what Warriors basketball could be like next season and beyond should Durant opt to sign elsewhere in free agency during the offseason.
Westbrook's Poor Three-Point Shooting is Holding Thunder Down
Westbrook has come up big for the Thunder in most areas this season, but his three-point shooting continues to be an Achilles' heel, which was quite apparent Saturday.
Overall, Westbrook went just 2-of-16 from the field, and he missed all seven of his three-point attempts. Despite averaging a triple-double on the season, Westbrook didn't manage to crack double digits in any category aside from missed shots.
He also finished with a minus-18 rating, while Curry was plus-19 for the Warriors, which underscored how dominating Steph's performance was in comparison:
Curry just owning Westbrook tonight— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) March 17, 2019
Westbrook's failure to effectively guard Curry could have been forgiven had he equaled Curry on the offensive end, but Russ was an albatross for OKC in that regard.
Strong efforts by George and Dennis Schroder were wasted primarily due to the fact that the Warriors barely had to account for Westbrook, per The Athletic's Tim Kawakami:
Warriors are defending Westbrook like he's a non-shooter. And he's not shooting.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) March 17, 2019
Westbrook tends to be at his best when he is distributing the basketball, as well as when he is driving to the basket and getting to the free-throw line. While he did manage nine assists, he only attempted four free throws.
As pointed out by Nate Duncan of the Dunc'd On Basketball Podcast, Westbrook barely ventured into the paint against Golden State:
Russell Westbrook's shot chart tonight. Not only is he way off on Js, he's not even trying to finish at the rim, even when the Warriors don't have bigs in position. ONE attempt at the rim, and that was a layup set up by someone else. pic.twitter.com/1SgBKF0MxK— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) March 17, 2019
Westbrook essentially relented and fell into playing Golden State's style of basketball, which is far from his strength as a player.
If the Thunder are going to have success down the stretch and into the playoffs, Westbrook has to be more aggressive rather than settling for jump shots. If he can get to the rim and cause chaos, it will not only allow him to score but also open up opportunities for his teammates.
George, Jerami Grant, Markieff Morris and Terrance Ferguson are better outside shooters than Westbrook, so the Thunder would be well-served to rely on them taking threes rather than Westbrook based on what happened Saturday night.
Golden State will continue its four-game road trip Monday with a matchup against the San Antonio Spurs. Kerr said that Durant will "most likely" be back in the lineup for that one.
Following Saturday's disappointing performance, the Thunder will look to get back on track Monday when they host the Miami Heat.