Russell Westbrook inspired a second-half fightback as the Oklahoma City Thunder came from behind to beat the Golden State Warriors 108-102 in the opening game of the Western Conference finals on Monday.
Westbrook poured on 27 points as the Thunder overturned a 60-47 halftime deficit to snatch victory in a pulsating clash between two of the most potent attacking units in the NBA.
Westbrook also chipped in with 12 assists and six rebounds while team-mate Kevin Durant finished with 26 points as the visitors silenced the Golden State home crowd at the Oracle Arena.
“It’s a game of two halves, man,” Westbrook said after the win. “We’re a great team. We didn’t play our best game but we came out with a win.”
Westbrook played a pivotal role on defence, time and again using his blistering speed to pounce on stray passes by the Warriors.
“He’s probably the quickest guard in the league,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Westbrook.
“I thought when we lost our aggressiveness and our momentum offensively in the second half, a lot of that had to do with his speed and aggressiveness,” the Warriors coach added.
Golden State looked to be sprinting away to a one-sided victory after blasting into a commanding early in the first half, converting a series of rash Oklahoma City turnovers into points.
NBA MVP Stephen Curry — who finished with 26 points — rubbed salt into the wound on the stroke of half-time with a trademark long-range three-pointer to give the Warriors a 13-point lead.
But the Thunder re-emerged after the halftime interval a different side, with Westbrook leading the charge to slash the Warriors’ advantage with a virtuoso third quarter performance.
Westbrook piled up 19 points in the third quarter to help put the Thunder within three points of the Warriors at 88-85 heading into the fourth quarter.
With Oklahoma City’s defence successfully neutralising the threat posed by Curry, it was left to Durant and Westbrook to take control.
Oklahoma City opened up a 101-93 lead in the final few minutes but the reigning NBA finals champion Warriors clawed their way back to within one point at 101-100.
Just when it looked as if Golden State were poised to pull off another Houdini act, the Thunder regrouped and edged clear once more.
The visitors received a fortunate call when Westbrook avoided being called for traveling at 105-102 with 17 seconds remaining, and three more points sealed the win as time ran out for the Warriors.
Kerr bemoaned a loss of composure in the final quarter, when the Warriors made only one of 10 attempted three-pointers — way below their normal levels of shooting accuracy.
“There were a lot of quick shots, way too many quick shots,” Kerr said.
“Five minutes left in the game and we’re down four points or whatever and we were acting like we had 20 seconds left.
“Five minutes is an eternity. We know how we have to play. We have to pass and move and create rhythm for ourselves.
“I just felt we took way too many quick ones which took us out of our rhythm.”
Curry said the Warriors were ready to respond after the opening loss.
“It’s a long series,” Curry said. “It will be a different situation for us to try to bounce back at this point in the series having a deficit. So I think it’s fun to be able to have this opportunity and show what we’re made of.”
Thunder head coach Billy Donovan meanwhile praised his side’s problem-solving abilities after a first-half littered with errors.
“I thought in the second half we did a much better job, took much better care of the basketball which enabled us to get back in transition and play better defence,” Donovan said. “It’s one game and we’ll have to take a look at the film and figure out how we can play better on Wednesday.
“We’re not a perfect team but these guys really battle and fight and compete — when they see something that’s a problem they really try to correct it.”
Game Two in the best of seven series takes place in Oakland on Wednesday.