OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Golden State Warriors blew past the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-95 on Monday night as a still healing Kevin Durant took in the show from the bench. It was a game that was competitive initially but ceased to be so after Oklahoma City lost contact against Golden State's reserve unit, a lineup that typically doesn't score in bunches.
The Thunder couldn't come close to overcoming Stephen Curry (23 points) and Klay Thompson (34 points) -- who hit seven 3-pointers apiece -- in addition to the quality minutes from JaVale McGee and David West.
Beyond those offensive contributions, the story of this matchup was, again, a quelling of a theoretically unstoppable force. Specifically, the Warriors again shrank Russell Westbrook's MVP-level impact into something far more manageable and far less threatening. With Durant no longer a member of the Thunder, the Warriors have only Westbrook to worry about, and given a long backlog of games, it isn't clear if they should be worried.
Less than a year ago, this was the belly of the beast. Everything at Chesapeake Bay Arena seemed difficult, as if the Warriors were strained by a heavier gravity whenever they had the rock. Openings closed more quickly than they appeared; opportunities gave way to stunning rebukes. Perhaps the most illustrative one of these happened in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, when Durant double-jumped to swat Shaun Livingston in the time it took the rangy guard to load up once.
The last time Golden State showed up here, amid all the Sturm und Drang of Durant's homecoming, the Warriors won easily -- or at least, more easily than they had won in the past. With Durant out, this seemed like it would be more of a fair fight. Instead, it was a reminder that Golden State didn't just acquire a great player. The Warriors also deprived a contender of theirs. They created a situation in which the Thunder couldn't compete, even if Durant's impact was confined to a suit.
That's because Durant was a terror against Golden State's defense in a way that Westbrook never was. The superstar point guard is an excellent pick-and-roll player, preferring to solve the somewhat predictable puzzles that manifest as his big man screens.
The Warriors, with their versatile, rangy defenders, deprive Westbrook of this puzzle by often switching. Draymond Green is especially key to this defensive approach, as he's the rare power forward who can stay with an athletic point guard.
There was a little more going on behind the scenes of Golden State's defense than merely "switching," though, as the ever savvy vet Andre Iguodala pointed out after the game.
"What they tried to do was put Zaza [Pachulia] in a lot of pick-and-rolls," Iguodala said. "Westbrook kind of gets a head of steam and gets going when Zaza's in the pick-and-roll. But when Draymond's in it, it's like a normal switch, like a guard. And Draymond did a great job adjusting in the second half. When Zaza didn't run to the pick-and-roll, Draymond would jump out real quick, and then Zaza would rotate down. So they actually switched, right as the pick-and-roll was taking place, which is very hard to do. People don't understand how hard it is to do that. The timing has to be right."
The collectively aware synchronicity kept thwarting Westbrook's at times bullheaded approach. This dynamic played out again, with Westbrook grinding to a halt against a wall of switching and pounding the rock into the floor as his energy -- and that of his teammates -- waned. When Westbrook finally took to the bench before the fourth quarter, he ended his evening on 4 of 16 shooting for 15 points. That isn't an entirely atypical Westbrook performance in this matchup. Since Steve Kerr became the Warriors coach, Russell Westbrook is shooting 35.1 percent in 11 games against Golden State, his worst percentage against a single opponent during that time period.
There wasn't much verve to Westbrook's and Oklahoma City's performances, save for a scuffle near the end of the first half that resulted in technical fouls for Westbrook, Green, Curry and Semaj Christon. That play became almost illustrative, as the flash of fight set up the Warriors to win a jump ball and Thompson to quickly pass into a wide-open Curry 3-pointer to close the half.
"Klay made a great play on the ball," Curry said. "He had the wherewithal to look down the court and make a pretty good pass and had enough time to shoot it."
Or, as Green put it more succinctly, "That was dope."
That play about cemented the blowout and summed up the game: The Thunder could aspire to throwing all they had at Golden State, only to let the game run away from them in an instant as the Warriors worked together, decisively.
Again, against Golden State, Westbrook's tenacity continues to double as futility.