OAKLAND – The Warriors led by 14 points and had the Roaracle Arena crowd adding to the frenzy, the Thunder counterpunched, and then Golden State made a fist one more time. Russell Westbrook hit, and then Andre Iguodala hit back.
It was supposedly mid-November. Actually, the 116-115 instant-classic thriller Thursday night over Oklahoma City was so much more big picture, with Golden State beating another projected Western Conference contender before it snowballed into an issue, Iguodala delivering a proving-ground moment nine games into his Warriors career, and a finish that can build confidence for a team that could have used a mental boost despite all the gains of the last 12 months.
“It’s OKC,” guard Stephen Curry said. “We needed a win against a team we’ve been chasing. OKC. Memphis. San Antonio. The Clippers. We’ve needed to do well against the best teams in the West.”
Before Thursday, there had only been wins against the Lakers, Kings, 76ers, Timberwolves and Pistons, against losses to the Clippers, Spurs and Grizzlies. There was a team constantly hailed as an offensive machine yet averaging more turnovers than anyone, and then came just seven turnovers against a pretty good defensive team.
And then Thursday started to slip away. The 14-point advantage with 8:10 left was cut in five within about four minutes, then two at 114-112 with 36 seconds remaining, until finally Westbrook daggered a 29-footer with :02.3 showing for a 115-114 Thunder comeback that forced Golden State to call timeout in an attempt to regroup.
“I’ll tell you what, that last timeout, it was dark in that huddle,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “You could tell. But I’m proud of my guys because we fought and we found a way to come up with a victory even when things seemed to be pretty bad.”
“They were down,” Jackson said of the Warriors. “They were upset. You look and you say, ‘How did [the Thunder] climb all the way back and now we find ourselves with a little over two seconds to go, down one. How?’ And you start beating yourself up. But that’s where you have a moment. They looked at each other and realized there’s still time left and we can execute. We work on it every day fortunately. I think it’s a great lesson for us because you can tell yourself that, but it’s another thing to experience it.”
Iguodala, a 16-foot fallaway, the ball going through the rim a fraction of a second before the horn, Oracle erupting – it was an experience all right.
Jackson said it “probably” had more value than a typical November win, and he was right. It won’t turn the Western Conference race and likely won’t even mean much if the teams play four or seven times in the spring, with the Thunder able to say they were missing Kendrick Perkins, on a personal leave. But it definitely meant something to the Warriors in the big picture, no supposedly about it.