Warriors observations: Defense sparks comeback over Thunder

What we learned as Warriors overcome struggles, beat OKC originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Heading into the Warriors’ game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Paycom Center on Tuesday night, the biggest concern wasn’t if the Thunder would beat Golden State, but rather if the Warriors would beat themselves. 

Historically, the Warriors have been a team to play down to the level of their opponent, and it happened against in OKC. Yes, the Warriors came out on top with a 106-98 win, but it didn’t happen in the fashion in which it should have. 

Instead of taking control of the game early and riding that all the way through, the Warriors let the Thunder get out to a 16-6 lead. Golden State started off by chucking up 3-pointers and not adjusting when they didn’t go down. On defense, the Warriors were asleep. 

Golden State chipped away at OKC throughout the night, and finally took control of the game late in the third quarter.

A win is a win, and the Warriors improved to 4-0 on the young season. But, they cannot be pleased with how this game went, and they need to figure out how to wake up before they host this same Thunder team in four days. 

Here are three takeaways from Oklahoma City:

The game was won in the third

Midway through the third quarter is when the Warriors got back into the game and set themselves up to win it.

The momentum shift began when Damion Lee checked in and hit two 3-pointers and took a big charge to inject some life into his team. As the Warriors started to find their footing, Steph Curry continued to put up points while Andrew Wiggins started attacking the rim with a different level of tenacity. The exclamation point was courtesy of Otto Porter Jr., who came in and knocked down consecutive 3-pointers and tallied a help-side block on the defensive end. 

Last season, only Curry would have been able to win these games for the Warriors. So to get contributions from up and down the bench is a welcomed change. 

Golden State ended the third quarter on a 12-2 run and built that into a 22-2 run over a four-minute period into the fourth. That was the stretch in which the Warriors won the game. Up until that point, it wasn’t looking good.

Lee shifted the momentum

Lee has been coming up big for the Warriors, scoring in double-digits in all four games they’ve played so far. The last time Lee scored in double figures four times in a row was at the end of the 2019-20 season.

Against the Thunder, Lee finished with 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range — his 15th career 20-point game. 

As soon as Lee stepped on the floor in the third quarter, he knocked down two sorely needed 3s. And throughout the remainder of the game, Lee’s shooting was a bright spot on a night when the Warriors could not buy themselves a basket from distance. 

Lackadaisical defense early on

The Thunder are one of the worst shooting teams in the league. Their 40.6-percent mark from the field is the fourth-worst percentage in the NBA, while their 26.6-percent mark from 3-point range is the second-worst. But you couldn’t tell in the first half against the Warriors.

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On the Warriors’ very first defensive possession of the game, Jordan Poole gave up a layup after getting beat on a backdoor cut. That set the tone for Golden State’s defense. After that, the Warriors just couldn’t seem to make a stop. 

Golden State lacked general aggression and effort on the defensive end, both from beyond the arc and in the paint. That led to OKC shooting 43.8 percent from long distance and 54.5 percent overall in the first half. Seven different players were responsible for the Thunder’s first seven 3s.

Sure, you can give the Thunder their flowers. They found a rhythm they haven’t had yet this season, but you also have to acknowledge that they found that rhythm, in part, because the Warriors weren’t pressing them hard enough. 

In the first four minutes of the third quarter alone, there were three consecutive plays the Warriors didn’t close out hard enough on Thunder players standing on the 3-point arc. The Warriors are lucky OKC hit just one of those 3s because all of them were fairly open attempts.

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