The Warriors are heading back to the NBA Finals.
After following a big third quarter with a powerful closing, Golden State defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, launching them into a widely-anticipated rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Warriors poured in 29 points in the third quarter, while allowing only 12 to Oklahoma City and nothing to Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who had criticized the defense of Stephen Curry following Game 5.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr noted some key factors that helped the Dubs along in the third:
“I think that’s where our crowd really came into play. The first half you could just hear the groans. You could hear the disappointment with the fans, and we weren’t giving them anything to cheer for. I thought Shaun Livingston‘s dunk in transition kind of changed the tune. Our fans got into it. And it was an emotional play. Our bench got into it. It just seemed to pick up our intensity that much more. It was just kind of the natural momentum of the game.”
Curry scored nine points during the third, and began to catch fire after Klay Thompson led the team in scoring during the first half.
Golden State came out flat during the first 24 minutes, with their defense holding the Thunder to 48 points while finding a way to keep things interesting with 42 of their own.
Most of the half wasn’t so close, though, and Golden State made up the difference in the final six minutes of the second frame, largely by playing disciplined defense.
Then, three and a half minutes into the third, Thompson sunk a three that began a whirlwind. Andre Iguodala hit a 23-footer from behind the arc, that followed Thompson’s 26-foot jumper.
Curry knotted the scored at 54-54 with a three-pointer on the ensuing possession, and Curry hit another three one minute later. The Thunder began to score in bits, but the Warriors nearly tripled their offensive production, and rallied behind their perimeter shooting — which they have so many times before in the third quarter.
Kerr’s halftime message to the team was that the second half was going to be about ball movement, which Draymond Green touched on:
“That was very important because of the things that coach Kerr says: ‘hey, force doesn’t beat these guys.’ Obviously he said you’re going everything you need to do in Game 7. You’re stepping up to the challenge. You’re competing. But almost overly competing, you know, because we’re all trying to do it ourselves. And the thing that he said is that ball movement beats these guys.”
The final two minutes weren’t without drama, either, as Oklahoma City overcame an 11-point deficit, cutting it down to four points. Kevin Durant almost single-handedly whittled down the lead with a mid-range bank shot, two free throws, and a 29-foot jumper for three.
Durant’s 12 points in the fourth were a large reason that the Thunder managed to maintain, and his defense was as good as it gets in the crunch.
The defending champions, though, overcame all the adversity of a playoff series, falling behind 3-1, then winning three straight, and the Western Conference crown.
And with the game won, in relative terms, Curry spun around like a gladiator after a fight to the death, and cheered along with the crowd — his eyebrows taught and clinched teeth showing, before smiling and cheering along with the crowd.
“It was a cool moment. Just knowing that we came back, and with like 20 seconds left we’re up 10, so a little breathing room. Obviously there was still time on the clock, but that was a moment to kind of just take in the atmosphere. We knew it was going to be a dogfight, and for us to overcome that early deficit and claw our way back and the way that we did it with everybody having and impact. Bench guys. Starters. On the defensive end. Obviously we made shots, It was just a cool moment to enjoy, and that fan noise and understand we were on the brink of doing something very special and coming back from 3-1.”
Curry finished with 36 points, Thompson with 21 points while Green grabbed nine boards while racking up 11 points. Durant ended his season finale with 27 points, and Westbrook scored 19 points.
Golden State will face Cleveland in the NBA Finals beginning Thursday at Oracle Arena.