For a while, it looked like the best team in NBA history wouldn’t even make it to the championship. Following a stunning knockout of the Spurs, the Oklahoma City Thunder led the Warriors, owners of a 73-9 record, three games to one. Thunder forward Kevin Durant and guard Russell Westbrook were at the top of their games, but the elevated play of the supporting cast pushed Oklahoma City to peak performance. On the other side, Golden State wasn’t itself, partially from MVP Steph Curry’s nagging injury and an opponent that knocked them off their game.
And then the Warriors came back. Golden State took the next two games, including an incredible rally in Game 6, to force the decisive Game 7 on their home court. Oklahoma City raced out to an early lead and dominated throughout the game, leading in nearly every stat category. Every stat category, except for two- three-point shooting and points.
Midway through the second quarter, Curry and guard Klay Thompson caught fire from behind the arc, just as we’ve been accustomed to seeing all season. Thompson (21 points on 6 of 11 three-point shooting) made three straight three-pointers in a two minute span in the end of the first half, and Curry made a highlight reel layup as time expired to cut a double-digit OKC lead to six points going into halftime.
Oklahoma City was powerless to halt the Warriors’ momentum in the second half. Curry stole the show, carrying Golden State on his back and repeatedly knocking down shots over seven-foot Oklahoma City center Steven Adams. Curry tied the game at 54 with a triple in the third quarter and captured the lead with another three a minute later. By the end of the third quarter, Golden State held a double-digit lead and had all momentum on their side.
With a strong performance by Kevin Durant (27 points) and the supporting cast, the Thunder were able to sneak back into the game and pulled within four points with just over a minute left in regulation. And as before, Steph Curry single-handedly stuck the dagger in Oklahoma City, making three straight free throws and effectively ending the game by swishing an uncontested three-pointer. With the 96-88 victory, the Warriors’ historic season continued onto the NBA Finals, while the Thunder were sent home.
Oklahoma City showed up on the biggest stage, but they were no match for Vintage Curry. The two-time MVP, battling injury, was spot-on and the Thunder just couldn’t contain him. Now the task falls on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. Last year, Steph Curry was far from his best and the Warriors still won in six games because the supporting cast, notably Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, stepped up big time.
This year, the Warriors face a greater challenge. With a Cleveland squad that has found its stride and has hit a record amount of three-pointers, and Curry still dealing with injury, Golden State has its hands full. If the Cavaliers hustle relentlessly like they did in the last Finals, but this time with all their stars, it will be near impossible. The series comes down to Golden State’s role players and Curry’s health in determining whether the winningest regular season team ever will finish off the stellar season with a storybook finish. After seeing Golden State return from a 3-1 deficit, don’t bet against them to make the impossible possible.
Prediction: Warriors in seven
MVP: Stephen Curry