OAKLAND — Last time, it was the second quarter. This time, it was the third.
Oklahoma City got off to another strong start in game two of its season series against Golden State. But once again, the Warriors were the ones with the strong finish, closing out a 121-100 victory to drop the Thunder to 25-19 on the season.
The Thunder actually led 31-30 after the first quarter Wednesday night. They were tied at 56 at the half. Russell Westbrook was on the way to the 21st triple-double of his season. Center Enes Kanter was wreaking havoc in the second unit. Shooting guard Victor Oladipo was sinking his jumpers. And the reserves were keeping OKC in the game.
Until they weren’t. Until former Thunder wing Kevin Durant pulled an act many in Oklahomans either remember, dread or some combination of both. Durant already had 20 at the half. He scored 13 more in the third.
“Every player in the NBA wants to play well against his old team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “For most guys, you feel that extra juice when you play against a team that you played on. I think it’s even more so with K.D. because of his history with that franchise.”
Durant ran like that was true Wednesday.
He got out on the break and sank a couple of pull-up 3s when no Thunder defender matched up with him in time. He threw down some dunks during which he looked like he was leaping from the other side of the bay.
It wasn’t all too different from the Thunder’s first meeting with the Warriors on Nov. 3. Golden State won 122-96 that night. Of course, OKC was on the second night of a back-to-back. The Thunder led 31-21 near the end of the first quarter, but fizzled quickly and couldn’t hold on, especially once Durant entered takeover mode at the end of the first quarter and into the second. He finished that match with 39 points.
He went for 40 on only 16 shots Wednesday.
“Good ratio,” Kerr joked.
He probably brought back some suppressed memories in the process, too.
“It’s still kind of fresh but we still can’t deny the history of him with OKC,” Warriors star Stephen Curry said. “Obviously, we turned the page, and when we face them, it’s one of those games where the intensity is high.”
It’s not like the Thunder should leave Oakland ashamed. They played on the road against a 36-6 team and kept it close for a quarter longer than they did last time. And they did it without starting center Steven Adams, who missed his second consecutive game after suffering a concussion Sunday in Sacramento.
But that third quarter got to them. Too much.
There was a point when the Thunder actually had a chance to take the lead. Power forward Domantas Sabonis drained a wide-open 3 that would have put OKC up 64-63 with a little more than eight minutes left in the third. But the make didn’t count. The shot clock failed to restart after a Thunder offensive rebound, and referees waved the play dead just as Sabonis was shooting the ball.
The Thunder turned it over on the makeup possession, leading to a Warriors score. Golden State outscored the Thunder 58-39 from that point on.
“I think we have to maintain a level of stamina for 48 minutes,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought we did it for the first half and at times in the second half…It just probably wasn’t enough.”
OKC lost the third quarter 37-22. It turned the ball over five times in that period compared to an even zero for Golden State. And that was after the Warriors totaled 13 giveaways in the first half.
“It was big,” Westbrook said. “They scored off of pretty much all of them. That’s what they do, especially here at home.”
One of those turnovers came when Westbrook inbounded a ball on the other end, forgot to dribble, and took about six steps before a travel was called. It has already made its way into the Basketball Twitter Hall of Fame, is becoming more memed by the moment and arrived just in time for Thursday night’s inevitable moment when TNT’s Shaqtin’ a Fool features it.
He pointed to his head after as if to say, “I zoned out.” It was a human moment. But the problem was, the Warriors were zoned in.