OAKLAND, Calif. — With just over two and a half minutes remaining in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Stephen Curry caught Dion Waiters off guard and drove middle into a thicket of Oklahoma City Thunder defenders.
To Curry’s right stood Andre Iguodala along the baseline, readying his hands to catch a pass and score an uncontested basket.
Curry fired a left-handed curving bullet in Iguodala’s direction — the same pass Curry has made countless times — only it darted past Iguodala, just a few feet out of reach, and out of bounds.
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It was a critical missed opportunity.
Later in crunch time, with just over a minute remaining, Draymond Green used his speed to drive past Steven Adams to the rim. As Adams recovered, he was moving too fast to properly stop and contest Green. To avoid an and-1 opportunity, Adams faded out of bounds, avoiding any contact and essentially leaving Green wide open.
Only Green lacked patience and couldn’t properly read the situation, so instead of letting Adams pass him and getting an easy lay-up or dunk, Green contorted his body and threw up a wild reverse lay-up, barely clanking iron.
Another crucial missed opportunity.
The Golden State Warriors had several uncharacteristic possessions in the second half of their 108-102 loss to the Thunder in Game 1 on Monday night, and will now head into Game 2 on Wednesday with their first 0-1 series deficit in the Steve Kerr era.
"Lot of quick shots, way too many quick shots," Kerr said of his team’s play in the fourth quarter, when they were outscored 23-14. "Five minutes left in the game and we’re down four or whatever, and we were acting like we had 20 seconds left. Five minutes is an eternity.
"We know how we have to play. We have to pass and move and create rhythm for ourselves with our screening and cutting. And I just felt like we took way too many quick ones that took us out of our rhythm."
Warriors led by 13 at the half and lost. They were 37-0 this season (including postseason) when leading by double-digits at halftime.
While the Warriors didn’t look like themselves in the first half, they still held a 13-point lead at intermission, limiting Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to a combined 16 points (6-of-19 shooting) and forcing 10 Thunder turnovers.
It wasn’t the ideal half, but like most Warriors games, even when the team isn’t playing particularly well, the scoreboard didn’t reflect that.
In the second half, the Thunder stars got loose, though, combining for 39 points (on only 11-of-32 shooting, but 12-of-14 from the free throw line). What’s more, Oklahoma City only turned the ball over twice, slowly figuring out the Warriors’ defense as the game progressed.
Oklahoma City controlled the pace — slowing it to a crawl — dominated the glass (plus-11 rebounding edge), and played with a composure and poise they’ve seemingly developed on the fly in the playoffs. Their bench (21 points) even outscored the Warriors’ (16), which was supposed to be a massive advantage in Golden State’s favor.
If anything, the Warriors, and not the Thunder, looked more like the team that relies on their superstars to bail them out possession after possession down the stretch. They turned the ball over seven times in the second half, and lacked the requisite ball movement and decision-making to tear up OKC’s length and athleticism defensively.
Warriors' 42 second-half points and 14 fourth-quarter points are both GSW 2016 playoff lows
"I don’t think we were ourselves offensively in the second half," Green said. "I think we were very careless. I think we were rushing. Everything was rushed. We lost our poise."
Curry added: "We tried for the home-run plays."
The Warriors’ play in the second half speaks to a larger concern: The team’s historically brilliant play can border on arrogant and reckless at times. When they’re making shots and getting stops, that’s great. But if they’re not, they can shoot themselves in the foot against the wrong opponent.
In most cases, they play well enough to eliminate any concern, or at least have enough of a talent disparity to offset their occasionally poor shot selection and turnovers. In the Western Conference Finals, it’s a legitimate problem — as long as they don’t handle it correctly.
"We won so many games, a lot of our flaws were overlooked," Andre Iguodala said. "I see the from time to time when get in situations like this, the Western Conference Finals. When you get late, late into the season, like June, if you don’t correct those flaws they start to glare a little bit and then you want to say something about it.
"When you go 73-9, you tend to overlook it. As basketball players we have to heighten the sense of urgency and heighten the sense of ball possessions, and pace, and flow. It’s good to get hit in the mouth, that’s when it really shows. We’ve got some work to do tomorrow and get back on track."
When you start off the season 81-11, it’s easy to overlook your flaws. And rightfully so. It’s basic human nature.
The Warriors have been historically great this season. Heck, they really are darn near flawless. They’ve earned their sense of self-belief and security, and it’s difficult to fault them.
But instead of righting the proverbial ship down the stretch of Game 1, and running several actions on a possession or making the extra pass, the Dubs doubled down on their careless play, while forcing passes and shots, and lacking discipline and defensive savvy. And subsequently, they lost their first home game of the 2016 playoffs.
On most nights, against most teams, the Warriors don’t need laser focus and attention to detail. They’re that great, which is part of what makes them special. Their best basketball usually is accompanied with back-breaking 3-pointers, behind-the-back passes, smiles and chest bumps.
But on Monday, the scales titled in the wrong direction.
Oklahoma City overcame a 14-point deficit, the largest comeback against the Warriors this postseason
Stephen Curry wasn’t himself, despite several flashes of brilliance and a couple of remarkable 3s. Klay Thompson started off scorching hot (19 first-half points), only to cool off in the second half (just 6 second-half points). And Draymond Green helped carry the load in the third quarter (12 points), but it wasn’t enough.
The Warriors looked only like the Warriors in the box score, and not on the floor.
And, of course, the Thunder deserve a ton of credit. They maintained their composure, and Durant and Westbrook made a slew of big plays in the second half. Steven Adams led all players in plus-minus (plus-19). There was also another controversial no-call that went their way.
But make no mistake: The Warriors didn’t choke away this game. The Thunder simply took it from them.
With an honest assessment of some of their flaws, and evidence of the consequences they’re facing if they don’t correct them in time, the Warriors believe they will bounce back and prevent a historically unfavorable 0-2 series deficit.
"I think it’s fun to be able to have this opportunity to come back and show what we’re made of, show our resiliency," Curry said. "It’s going to be a long series, so we’ve got to be ready on Wednesday."