OAKLAND – The locker room tends to be a place of few words in the minutes before the Warriors take the floor. A coach or a player might have something to say. Even that was not the case early Thursday evening.
As the Warriors prepared to take the floor to face the Oklahoma City Thunder – the team Kevin Durant left, breaking many hearts, to join the Warriors – the room was so utterly silent that, as one person said, “you could hear the hum of the lights.”
So the Warriors came out of the locker room and into the uproar that defines Oracle Arena and put on their best show of the season, a 122-96 victory that left little about which to gripe.
“The last two games,” Durant said, referring also to a 127-104 win at Portland on Monday, “we put together a full game.”
This was Durant, slicing through the flaccid Thunder defense for 39 points. Stephen Curry added 21. Draymond Green’s line was customarily comprehensive: 9 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots.
“That was our goal for the night,” Green said. “Just to go out and rally around (Durant). Yes, it’s a regular-season game, but that’s a little different.”
Never was there a doubt this was for Durant and, to a considerably lesser degree, everybody else. There was the acute awareness that OKC was 4-0, with star guard Russell Westbrook playing at MVP level, and that Westbrook, perhaps more than most members of the Thunder, seemed particularly resentful with the way Durant exited.
So everybody understood that the stakes were higher than a mere game. This was about covering for Durant, about letting him know he was sharing the room with a crew that had his back. His new teammates understand he has taken a lot of grief for his decision, and they believe it’s unwarranted.
They also knew the volume on the anti-Durant noise would increase if they lost.
“We have each other’s back every game,” Steph Curry said. “But there was a conversation or two about ‘let’s just get this win, and get it for him.’ There’s no sort of vindication, but you know he has a history with a certain team . . . It’s hard to erase that. So you just want to come out and help him enjoy the game, enjoy that first opportunity against his old team.”
This was, aside from the first nine minutes (when they trailed 29-19) nothing short of a clinic. They shot it well, passed it well, rebounded well and basically suffocated the Thunder on defense.
The Warriors held OKC to 32.7-percent shooting in the first half, after which they led by 25. Westbrook was having the worst of it, 3-of-13 en route to a 4-of-15 night. It got better for the Thunder in the second half, perhaps because those 24 minutes were irrelevant.
“Our defense has been getting better every single game,” Curry said. “It’s what’s going to make us a championship team, if we realize that goal. We know what we have on the offensive end, but when we play like we did toward the end of the first quarter and that whole second quarter, it was just fun. Everybody was on the same page, swarming the ball, helping each other out on rotations, getting deflections and rebounding the basketball.”
The Warriors (4-1) clearly are starting to synthesize into a cohesive unit. Quarter by quarter, game by game, they’ve become more of a team that appears to have actually spent time practicing.
The careless turnovers so characteristic of the Warriors at their worst – visible too often in the first three games – were at a minimum. The general effort was superior to that of OKC, which, in its defense, played Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
It was another example of the Warriors feeling threatened and unifying behind a teammate, Durant, who personified a cause. They wanted to beat OKC, to do it for KD. And they did exactly that, quite convincingly.