Warriors beat Thunder and demonstrate how to develop talent while keeping stars
It's not easy, but Golden State is making it look like it is this season.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the Golden State Warriors cruised to a 110-98 victory over the inferior Oklahoma City Thunder. The Dubs are on a 9-game winning streak and own the second best record in the NBA. The Thunder are plummeting toward the lottery at maximum velocity.
Oklahoma City was once a mighty contender and their crowd still has a lot of pride, which kept their team in striking distance down the stretch until Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson did what they love to do in that building and drown their foes deep in the Splash.
But Oklahoma City put on a good show despite lacking their 23-year old budding star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander due to injury. They’ve got a fascinating young team with some other potential stars in the making, and those guys fought hard last night against the Golden Empire.
They were led by Luguentz Dort’s 26 points and 3 steals. He’s 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds of energy, active all over the court with his defensive intensity and relentless shooting (he was 3-of-12 from beyond the arc).
They got 20 points and 8 rebounds from power forward Darius Bazley, a 2019 first-round draft pick. He’s an athletic and creative finisher who fearlessly drove into the teeth of the Warriors’ defense to find crafty layups and explosive dunks.
They got 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists from wing Josh Giddey, their 2022 first-round draft pick selected one spot before Golden State rookie Jonathan Kuminga. He’s a 6-foot-8 jack-of-all-trades with the instincts and smooth game of a veteran.
This is a team that has a lot of young pieces that could mature and develop into a dangerous squad. If these guys ever gel together in Oklahoma City, look out!
Then again, I feel like I’ve been saying that since 2010 when they took the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers to six games in a tightly fought first round series. Silver Screen and Roll praised the young OKC team led by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden:
“If this team can be held together, with some small additions at key positions, they'll be around this time of year for a very long time. Be thankful for them, because they play the game right, watching them is a joy even for the other team's fans.”
There was a 2012 Bleacher Report article that had this excerpt after OKC vanquished Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in the postseason:
“Their meteoric ascent has been led by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and masterful front-office management. And because the Thunder grew up so quickly, they’re the team of the future while simultaneously being the team of today.”
The team of the future AND today huh?
And when OKC took a 3-1 lead over the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference Finals, the Undefeated penned this:
Despite Oklahoma City’s 2012 Finals loss to the Miami Heat, many believed a budding dynasty was beginning to take shape there. For good reason, too. Their core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and then James Harden (who is now with Houston) were young and loved playing together.
The Warriors came back from the deficit to eliminate the Thunder, swipe KD, and OKC hasn’t been in contention since. Can you believe a franchise that developed the young feisty versions of Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Reggie Jackson, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams never won a single championship with them?
Maybe that’s why there was a loud contingent of Warriors fans demanding that the team trade their young projects and draft picks for established stars to help Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green this season. The Thunder are living proof that having young talent doesn’t guarantee anything.
But let’s go back to that phrase from the BR article: “they’re the team of the future while simultaneously being the team of today”. This season Golden State looks primed to live up to that standard. They still retain their Core 3 who won championships and put the final dagger in OKC’s dynasty dreams. And they have several intriguing players 26 years old or younger:
Andrew Wiggins 26
Kevon Looney 26
Jordan Poole 22
James Wiseman 20
Jonathan Kuminga 19
Moses Moody 19
Last night Kuminga scored 16 points in 23 minutes off the bench. If the Core 3 were to retire today, the Dubs already have their next generation of killers developing at warp speed.
Thankfully, the Core 3 is all still in their early 30’s with the 38-year old Andre Iguodala (a part of the Core 4 you could say) still contributing spot minutes. This team is living their best life today while stashing ballers in their savings account for the future.
THIS IS RUSS
Russell Westbrook had 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting, 10 assists and four turnovers in another rough game for the Lakers' former MVP. He was taken out with 2:34 left in the third quarter and didn't play in the fourth while the Lakers made their comeback.
Westbrook said he was disappointed he couldn't play in the final period, and he was seen consoling James and Davis on the bench after the rally fell short. Westbrook deferred to Vogel's decision, but said he feels he has "earned the right" to close games.
Westbrook got light booing in spots from the home crowd, particularly when he missed an 11-foot jumper in the first half and committed two turnovers in 12 seconds in the second half.
Westbrook called the boos "a sign of respect" and later said basketball wasn't "the end-all, be-all... Whatever comes, cheers, boos, it doesn't really matter."
Steph Curry +492 (#1 in the NBA, +121 over any other player, and +208 over any other Warrior)
LeBron James -18 (#358 in the NBA)