Saturday’s blowout victory was exactly what Golden State needed to awaken them from their midseason slumber.
The moment the Warriors got their groove back happened late in the second quarter against the Thunder. That was when Carmelo Anthony tangled arms with Kevin Durant while setting a screen. As the two jawed at each other, Durant pulled Anthony forcefully out of frustration.
Or maybe It happened a minute later, when Draymond Green was called for a foul when trying to block a layup. Green bellowed toward the Oracle crowd, who responded in kind.
Either way, it didn’t matter that Green was called for a foul in a tight game, and it didn’t matter that referees wrongly assessed Green a technical because they believed he was taunting the player he fouled. It also didn’t matter that Durant also got a technical on the play before.
What mattered was they were asserting their team’s dominance the way the Warriors always do at their best: by riling the crowd up in a frenzy. That’s when Oracle Arena turns hostile toward the opposition, which not only motivates the Warriors to play their best ball, but also causes their opponents to make sillier and sillier mistakes.
By the third quarter, when Durant and Green kept jawing at Anthony after being called for a foul, Oracle arena was shaking. The 14-0 run that followed was merely icing on the cake.
This was the Warriors we all know. The unstoppable force that can steamroll a team out of nowhere and from all angles. The stifling defense. Stephen Curry buzzing around and somehow finding himself wide open for corner threes. Durant having his way with whichever poor defender switched onto him. Green being omnipresent on both ends. Nick Young, playing the role of Klay Thompson just this once, supplying the knockout punch with backbreaking threes.
This was also a Warriors team we’ve seen less often than usual this season. Despite their 46-14 record, the Warriors have looked little like the overwhelming force that embodies the essence of basketball perfection.
They knew it, too. Days before the All-Star break Steve Kerr took the unprecedented step of letting the players coach against the Suns. It was an unorthodox attempt to reinvigorate a team that had — perhaps understandably — grown complacent. Even the greatest teams still have to find motivation to keep winning.
The Thunder supplied that motivation in a way other opponents can’t. The Rockets are a legitimate foil, but the Spurs aren’t as imposing without Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland has spent most of the year floundering and making huge changes on the fly. OKC has their own issues, but they’ve blown the doors off the Warriors twice this season. They match up well due to their length and take the games personally for obvious reasons. If they beat Golden State again, what would’ve happened to that aura of Warrior invincibility?
Time will tell if this dominant victory ends that sentiment for good. The Warriors did struggle for the first two-and-a-half quarter, and Paul George and Russell Westbrook won’t shoot 5-29 from the field again. The game was ugly for most of the night.
Still, this blowout win was critical for the Warriors because it sent a message to the Thunder and every other team in the league. Just when you think they finally look mortal, they can flip that switch at any second and nonchalantly dismiss a team that supposedly had their number this year. All it takes is one four-minute stretch to remind everyone how insignificant their problems are.
Nothing is preordained and other contenders can still beat the Warriors on their day, but the fundamentals of the situation haven’t changed. The Warriors still have a team that’s so talented and well-coached on both sides of the ball that opposing teams are never safe. They still only need a small window in any game to utterly crush and demoralize any opponent.
They just needed to remind us — and themselves — that they could still flex that muscle whenever they want.
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