The Golden State Warriors held on to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 128-120 on Monday, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combining for 66 points to help keep Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and company at bay. Here are three key reactions—complete with related analysis and observations, of course—from the Warriors’ solid victory away from home.
The Warriors’ beautiful game offense
Matching the Thunder size for size by going back to their small-ball starting lineup, the Warriors knew they’d have ample opportunity to play in space and the open floor on Monday. That’s always a major advantage for Golden State given the singular threats presented by Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, but especially when facing a young team missing by far its best perimeter defender, Lou Dort. With Chet Holmgren sidelined, it’s not like the Thunder have much rim-protection when the paint is creased—especially via the pass.
Just like in Friday’s win over the Toronto Raptors, Golden State took full advantage of Oklahoma City’s lifted defense early by finding cutters for easy finish after easy finish. When the Thunder adjusted to play further behind Curry and Thompson away from the ball, the Warriors found ample space to launch from deep.
The result? Golden State assisted on its first 18(!) made baskets against the Thunder, the ball pinging across the floor as the defense scrambled to consistently find the wide-open man and turn good shots into great ones.
This sequence from the second quarter is peak Warriors.
Some of Golden State’s best offense came from two-man actions with Curry and Green, the latter making hay as a playmaker on the move when Oklahoma City trapped the reigning Finals MVP.
The Warriors believed in the pass all night long, extra dangerous on broken plays.
Golden State racked up 37 assists in Oklahoma City. Curry and Green doled out 12 apiece. The Warriors’ 15 turnovers were a perfectly acceptable number against an active, athletic defense that leads the league in opponent’s turnover percentage. That’s 77 assists in the past two games for the defending champs, including Friday’s win over Toronto when they dished a season-high 40.
Has Golden State flipped a switch offensively? Curry regaining his pre-injury, MVP form certainly helps, and Wiggins—back in the lineup after missing two games with another illness—looked as comfortable on that end as he has since returning from the longest absence of his career in early January.
It’s the Warriors’ rolling offensive flow and commitment to finding the best shot possible sticking out most right now, though, sparking some real optimism for a potential second-half run up the packed Western Conference standings.
Making life hard on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
There’s no fool-proof way to guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He’s probably the league’s best penetrator, with an uncanny ability to stop, start and change direction with the ball on a string, using his unique blend of length and body control to get whatever shot he wants from the paint and mid-range. Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t an All-Star lock by media narrative or team-specific consequence; he’s a legitimate superstar.
But even the league’s best players can be forced into off nights, and Gilgeous-Alexander had one on Monday against the Warriors. He missed his first seven shots of this game, routinely relegated to tough looks from the opening tip to the fourth quarter buzzer by a Golden State defense fully committed to keeping him in check.
In Andrew Wiggins, Jonathan Kuminga and Draymond Green, the Warriors boast three players with the necessary size, quickness and defensive anticipation to at least make Gilgeous-Alexander work one-one-one. Golden State, especially Wiggins, was indeed solid at the point of attack, but what really frustrated Gilgeous-Alexander were the secondary and tertiary waves of defense he had to navigate to get all the way to the rim.
Green picks SGA up in secondary transition on this first quarter possession, with Kenrich Williams setting a side drag screen to goad Curry into a switch. After briefly retreating with Williams on the switch, Green aggressive reverses course back to the ball for what amounts to a hard hedge and recover. Instead of getting back to Williams, though, Curry stays on the strong side, ultimately coaxing SGA into giving the ball up.
Anthony Lamb follows Curry’s lead in the clip below following a pair of blink-and-you-missed-them switches on the ball with Donte DiVincenzo.
Once Gilgeous-Alexander catches the kickout on the wing, Lamb already has his eyes back to the ball, ready to trap the box on a potential drive. That early help makes SGA slow down and snake back towards the middle of the floor with his dribble, allowing Kuminga enough time to get back in the play for a steal.
Check out how willingly Thompson leaves Williams in the weak-side corner to help as the low man on this baseline attack by Gilgeous-Alexander. Curry does a great job playing two behind the ball, then closes out hard to Williams for an effective contest.
Even Jordan Poole wasn’t roasted by Gilgeous-Alexander.
Watch how Green lays patiently in wait behind Poole as SGA drives right, knowing full well he has the speed and length to recover for a challenge on Jaylin Williams if the ball went his way. Curry and Wiggins aren’t exactly worried about Williams and Josh Giddey spotting up from deep, either.
Gilgeous-Alexander eventually found his rhythm, coming alive in the third quarter to spearhead the Thunder’s comeback after intermission. He finished with 31 points, four rebounds and seven assists on 24 shots and 10 made free throws, an extremely impressive display of perseverance versus a locked-in defense after an awful start. Gilgeous-Alexander ended up making his typical All-NBA impact on Monday.
But Golden State’s suffocating early defense on Gilgeous-Alexander keyed a big first-half lead, while Wiggins, Green and Kevon Looney kept him from taking over in crunch-time. Like Ja Morant in last week’s final-second win over the Memphis Grizzlies, SGA had to work for pretty much everything he got against the Warriors—about as well as any defense could expect to do.
Going big in crunch-time
Steve Kerr went with Kevon Looney next to Curry, Thompson, Wiggins and Green for the most important moments of this game despite opening small.
Jordan Poole struggled offensively for much of the night, but found his footing in the fourth quarter to help keep Oklahoma City from ever getting over the hump on the scoreboard. Exploited as he was at times by Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey and Jalen Williams off the bounce, Poole was at least somewhat disruptive defensively.
But his presence gives any team, let alone one with a playmaker like SGA, a flaming-red target on that end when the game slows down in the clutch, and it’s not like Poole will be the Warriors’ offensive alpha dog with Curry on the floor. Looney just gives Golden State a much better two-way balance in crunch-time than Poole. That logic paid huge dividends against the undersized Thunder, Looney making a series of game-changing plays on both sides of the ball upon entering with 5:33 left.
Looney caught a pass from Curry in the dunker spot after the latter rejected a ball screen, finishing with authority. He forced Jalen Williams, continuing to show out as a rookie, into a missed pull-up two in a switch situation. This smothering block on Gilgeous-Alexander proved one of the biggest plays of the game, leading to a massive transition three from Poole just before Kerr subbed him out for Draymond Green.
The Warriors may not be able to get away with playing Looney next to Green in the clutch versus elite defenses—especially extra switchable ones.
But Curry and Thompson wreak so much havoc moving without the ball, Wiggins is a canny cutter and Green sees passes some good point guards don’t. Golden State can always task Curry with putting on his cape in winning time, too.
38 PTS | 8 REB | 12 AST
Stephen Curry put on a show in OKC 🍿@UAbasketball || Second Look pic.twitter.com/Z8Cvz9mnVg
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 31, 2023
Don’t take Looney’s demotion to part-time or situational starter as any indication of his likely role in crunch-time going forward. He’ll still be a frequent on-court factor for the Warriors when it matters most, and deservedly so given efforts like Monday’s.