It was the kind of acrobatic trick shot that tends to befuddle the Golden State Warriors’ fusty critics, a twisting, high-flying, no-look layup that you weren’t really sure Andre Iguodala still had the ability to complete with his 32-year-old legs. It happened at the tail end of the second quarter, with all of Oracle Arena clutching to those complimentary T-shirts like rosary beads, wondering if perhaps this would be the night the (potentially) greatest team in NBA history finally lost two games in a row this season – and now, at the worst possible time?
The headline of Game 2 of Golden State’s 118-91 Western Conference Finals win over the Thunder will be what Steph Curry did in the third quarter, blistering the Thunder with 15 straight points to blow open a close game and even the series at 1-1 heading to Oklahoma City for Sunday’s Game 3. But Iguodala’s shot, laden with a pool shark’s level of english, was the catalyst. Iguodala’s was the first moment in this series when the Warriors truly felt like The Warriors, a team that mainlines on joy in the way no other NBA team ever has.
How often has something like this been the thing to set them off, to loosen them up, to remind them who they are? How often have the Warriors found a way to stop pressing and embrace the angles and the possibilities, to show us that they’re pretty much capable of making the game fun again?
Most of the time, it’s Curry casually sinking a 50-footer at the buzzer, or Klay Thompson terrorizing opponents with a run of 3-pointers, but the thing about the Warriors the way they’re assembled is that virtually everyone on the roster is capable of a moment like this, a ridiculously breathtaking play that alters the tenor of the game. Hell, even Andrew Bogut does it from time to time. And that’s what Iguodala’s layup did: It made the Warriors the Warriors again, and as well as the Thunder had been playing lately, there was nothing they could do about it once it happened.
By the time Curry unleashed his wizardry, by the time he’d hit a pair of threes midway through the third quarter, the lead was 74-59 and the Warriors had proven that once again, when faced with a must-win situation, they could dig deep and find the answers. This is what they did when they were chasing the all-time regular season wins record; this is what they did in the first couple rounds of these playoffs, and this is what they’ll need to do again in Oklahoma City in order to steal a game on the road and regain home-court advantage.
It’s still kind of strange to see the Thunder – and particularly Kevin Durant – as the villains in this new reality, but that’s how it’s shaping up. The problem with rooting against the Warriors is that they only way to beat them is to sap the game of its joy. This is how the Spurs did it, and this is how several other middling teams did it during the regular season – they either caught the Warriors on an off-shooting night, or they caught them with a less-than-full rotation, or they caught them in the midst of a fatigue-laden road trip.
This is the best way to drain that joy away, through fortunate circumstances. But the Thunder don’t have that luxury anymore. That punch they threw at the Warriors in Game 1 woke up their opponent, and thanks to Iguodala and Curry, the Warriors once again rediscovered themselves in Game 2. The only path to victory now is to tamp down that sense of fluid motion that the Warriors play with at their best; the only path to victory is to not allow the Warriors to play with passion and energy and joy. It isn’t a simple thing to cage up for more than one game at a time. It’s proven damn near impossible for the majority of the NBA this season, and while the Thunder may have the best chance of anyone to do it, it sure as hell won’t be easy.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games, now out in paperback. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb