Warriors Hit Halfway Point with Statement Win Over Oklahoma
It's still a little early in the NBA season to be talking about so-called "statement wins" but the Golden State Warriors just may have had one last night as they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder while reaching the halfway point in their schedule. Trailing by eight points in the fourth quarter, Golden State rallied behind Stephen Curry's 31-point, seven-assist night to down the Thunder 104-99. This may not seem like a big deal to most, but for a franchise that has made the playoffs only once since 1995 (their stunning first round upset of the Mavs in 2007) it could prove to be a launching pad for a team and fan base starved for success.
By beating the team with the NBA's best record last night, Golden State became the only team this season to have wins against Oklahoma, Miami, and the LA Clippers, three of this year's powerhouses. In fact, save the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets, the Warriors have more than held their own against teams with winning records. They've all but proven that they can go toe-to-toe with the big boys out west and have pretty much owned the east, going 13-3 against that conference. Speaking of which, Friday night they'll have another chance to test their mettle on the road as they start the second half of their schedule by visiting the Central-leading Bulls in Chicago.
It's difficult to point to one reason for Golden State's shocking success this year. For sure Curry and teammate David Lee are having terrific seasons and are key components to the turnaround. But this is a team that has watched many different players step up and provide a spark when needed. If one were to single out one crucial element that has really changed on this team, it's defense. While no one would confuse the Warriors as one of the top defensive clubs in the league, they have improved markedly over last year and are light years better than anything they attempted under Don Nelson's run-and-gun approach. In short, the Warriors haven't really played defense in close to a quarter century. So head coach Mark Jackson and his staff are to be commended for getting a bunch of modern players to at least start to understand the concept of defensive basketball.
So, was last night's win over Oklahoma City a statement win? You can probably look at it as such. Any win against a very good team always breeds confidence. It also serves notice to that team that you are capable of not only playing with them but beating them. If Golden State can continue to play the way they are playing, they will not only make the playoffs, they just might meet some teams there that won't want to face them.