By Rob Johnson
Special to S.F. Examiner
OKLAHOMA CITY — After an embarrassing and disappointing 115-110 home loss to the Phoenix Suns, the Golden State Warriors hit the road for four games against Western Conference foes, including two — the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs — who could potentially wind up being playoff opponents.
Since their final game before the All-Star break, Golden State had gone just 4-6 headed into the road trip, without having recorded consecutive wins since Feb. 10-12.
With lackluster and uneven play marking the post-All-Star Break malaise, the Warriors, in their second straight game without Kevin Durant, turned in arguably their best defensive performance of the season on Saturday, holding the Thunder to just 32.3 percent shooting in a 110-88 win.
“Everybody has been locked in,” said former NBA Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green. “You see fire in coaching staff’s eyes, different focusing their eyes you see a different focus in our players’ eyes, and that’s important … It’s the right time to start playing well, and try and roll on into the playoffs playing good.”
The Warriors (47-21) have finally pieced together back-to-back road-wins for the first time since Jan. 26-28. With Durant nursing an ankle injury for the second game in a row, Stephen Curry scored a game-high 33 and Klay Thompson added 23, but their offense was an afterthought.
Thompson scored 10 points in the first six minutes, then proceeded to lock down former MVP Russell Westbrook, holding the eight-time All-Star to a season-low seven points and another season-low in field-goal percentage, shooting 2-for-16 on the night, and 0-for-7 from 3-point distance.
“Trying to prevent him (Westbrook) from getting down-hill,” said Thompson on his defensive assignment. “The game wasn’t as fast as we wanted sometimes, but when there’s not that much transition, you got to be lock-in defense, especially in half-court sets.”
The Warriors not only held the Thunder (42-28) to their lowest shooting percentage of the season, but also out-rebounded Oklahoma City — the second-best rebounding team in the NBA — 53-52.
“I think the loss to Phoenix opened our eyes a little bit,” said Coach Steve Kerr. “We played two good teams, and we got another one, maybe the hottest team in the league in San Antonio. Anytime they threatened I feel that our guys played better.”
Curry, too, helped set the night’s defensive tone by having a game-high three steals out of Golden State’s 10. The Thunder — fifth in the Western Conference standings — had only four takeaways. Ordinarily, Paul George and Westbrook average 4.25 steals a game just by themselves.
“At this point in the season, whatever we can kind of hold on to, to create those challenges and just the expectation of playing the game like we did tonight,” said Curry. “On the road, the last two games we wanted to start off with the right intentions, right focus.”
Kerr is hopeful Durant will return to the line-up soon, possibly as soon as Monday against the Spurs, but meanwhile, DeMarcus Cousins is putting up solid numbers. Against the Thunder, he scored 12 points, pulled down eight rebounds, dished out six assists and had a game-high two blocked shots. Cousins did twist his ankle in the second half, but it doesn’t seem to be a concern.
“The game is different without Kevin out there,” said Kerr on Cousins’ impact. “So we made more of a point of going inside, threatening the defense … It’s a good formula. You’ve got a lot of good shooters out there with him (Cousins). He does a great job of passing with Draymond screening on the perimeter. So it’s been effective.”
The NBA’s second-leading scorer George still got his 29-points, but Westbrook — who has averaged 30.3 points per game since Feb. 14 — was so frustrated with Thompson’s defense that he let his emotion get the best of him. With 3:29 left in the second-quarter, Westbrook picked up his 16th technical foul of the season, which earns him a one-game suspension while the stiff Western Conference is fighting for playoff positions from now until the end of the regular-season.
“He’s (Westbrook) competitive,” said Thompson. “You see guys get frustrated and lash out, it happens on our team, it happens on their team, it happens to every NBA player … The playoffs are right around the corner and we want to go in on a nice little winning streak, and we’ve started one so far.”