OAKLAND, Calif. -- It was nervy before it was brilliant, before the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry poured 36 points into the 96-88 culmination of an incredible comeback from down 3-1 in the Western Conference finals, just the 10th playoff team to rally from such a series deficit. On Monday night, the Warriors completed their crawl from the grave, while simultaneously snagging a second straight ticket to the NBA Finals.
When asked whether he gets classic pregame butterflies in his stomach, Klay Thompson told ESPN.com, “No.” Then a pause, followed by an admission.
“OK, for a game like this, a little bit.”
For a game like this is unlike any other game. “Game 7,” the two best words, as the saying goes, can actually produce some hideous basketball because it is unique. The extreme variance of Game 7 can express itself as rushed jumpers, held passes and general stagnation.
True to that framework, Golden State had a jittery beginning as Oklahoma City locked down defensively. A general anxiety seemed to restrict the offensive flow.
The Thunder are, in some ways, well positioned for such a game: They’re the best offensive rebounding team in basketball. So Oklahoma City's misses are more easily converted into something productive. When Golden State shots go begging, the team receives little in the way of charity. After the first quarter, the Thunder had outscored the Warriors 6-1 on second-chance points.
But Thompson, as he has often done this playoffs, provided his team with some necessary airspace. He banged home four second-quarter 3-pointers, the first of which brought the crowd relief as much as a jolt. Golden State was teetering, threatening to fall down big in the second stanza yet again. Instead, the Warriors managed to close the half down 48-42, well within striking distance at home. Curry finished the half with a sprinting floater high off the glass that teased physics.
And then, the deluge.
Perhaps the butterflies flew away as Golden State stomped Oklahoma City in the third quarter 29-12. It started with three consecutive possessions with a 3-pointer (Curry, Thompson and Iguodala). That, combined with some hounding defense, helped unlock the dam as the offense gained a flow so free that Anderson Varejao looked off Curry and scored on a dribble drive. Some of the shots were suboptimal, but no matter: They went in. And that’s how the Warriors often win. Their bad shots are better than yours.
From there, Oklahoma City fought, and they briefly made a game of it late in the fourth quarter when Kevin Durant brought its deficit from 11 to four in three possessions. That brief scare was averted when Serge Ibaka, who had been grabbing Curry for much of the game, finally knocked him in view of a referee.
Three free throws brought the Warriors another measure of relief, but it wasn’t the exclamation. That came when, with under 30 seconds and the score 93-86, Curry wrapped the ball around his back, lost Andre Roberson and capped off the adventure with a 3-pointer.
And with that, it was done. Curry had found his MVP form again, the Warriors had found themselves again and again Golden State is back in the Finals.
There are more butterflies on deck, waiting to take flight.