It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who blew a three-games-to-one Western Conference Finals series lead over the Golden State Warriors and were eliminated on Monday night. The Warriors played great basketball and put their resilience on display for the world to see as they sent the Thunder packing.
Still, if one had to guess where the tide turned for Golden State, they may point to Game 5’s post-game presser. That’s when a reporter asked Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook if they thought that Steph Curry was an underrated defender, to which Russ responded by laughing straight into the microphone.
Westbrook’s snicker grabbed headlines and may (or may not) have provided some extra motivation for Curry. Maybe it’s a stretch to think that the Warriors guard and two-time MVP would need a jab from Westbrook to bring his absolute best with Golden State on the brink of elimination, but just look at the numbers in the two games after Westbrook’s guffaw.
Since Westbrook laughed at Curry's defense:
Westbrook: 23.5 PPG, 17-48 (35%), 2-11 on 3s
Curry: 33.5 PPG, 22-46 (48%), 13-26 on 3s
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 31, 2016
Sure, this may be a bit misleading, since Curry only guarded Westbrook for a small portion of the final two games, but that drastic shift in numbers indicates that Westbrook had his hands full down the stretch and the Warriors guard was clearly the superior competitor in the final two games. In fact, Curry scored more points (against Westbrook’s defense) than any player ever through the final three games of a series in which they trailed 3-1.
What can we learn from this? Well, it’s maybe not such a great idea to poke the bear, especially when the bear is a consecutive (and unanimous) MVP award-winner. You can laugh, but there’s a good chance you won’t have the last one.