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Curry, Warriors avoid elimination, force Game 6 vs. Thunder

USA TODAY USA TODAY 27/05/2016 Sam Amick

Steph Curry was shouting again, yelling things to the crowd that made it abundantly clear how he felt about his latest signature moment.

But this time, with his Golden State Warriors having pushed back from the brink to win Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals 120-111 over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it wasn’t about his return. It was about his revival.

Curry – who screamed “I’m back!” at that May 9 game in Portland where he dazzled after his comeback from a two-week absence, and who had picked such an awful time to disappear in those two conference finals losses in Oklahoma City – was Curry again.

He stole the ball from Kevin Durant on one end, then weaved his way in and out of all those blue jerseys on the other. Down the right side of the lane – past Russell Westbrook, past Steven Adams – the ball over them all as his finger-roll fell in for a 10-point lead with 1:02 to go.

“We ain’t going home,” he yelled into the Oracle Arena crowd.

No, they’re not. Down 3-2 and still facing the toughest of tasks, they’re headed to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday.

The Warriors fans who grew so accustomed to seeing nightly dominance in this building were quick to assume a Warriors win, chanting “See you Monday” in the closing seconds in reference to a possible Game 7 inside these walls. You could hardly blame them, though, what with the way the Warriors seemed to recapture so much of the style and swagger that pushed them toward a historic 73-win season that’s still on the edge.

Curry finished with 31 points (nine of 20 shooting), seven rebounds, and six assists. His fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson had 27 points. Forward Draymond Green, who will surely not hold on to game tape of his awful performances in the Game 3 and Game 4 losses that put them in this place, had 11 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists. More importantly, this Warriors team that had boasted one of the league’s best defenses these past two seasons remembered how to guard again.

"I was better tonight. I still didn't do all the things I'm capable of doing," Green said. "Shots, sometimes you can't control that. The one thing I can control is the way I go out there and fight and battle. That was my mindset tonight. I was coming to a fight."

The Thunder, who had dominated the glass in this series but tied 45-45 in rebounds in Game 5, shot just 42.9% from the field. Warriors big man Andrew Bogut played a big part on that front, finishing with 14 rebounds (and 15 points) while slowing the Thunder’s penetration.

"(Bogut) rebounded, he scored, he was aggressive," coach Steve Kerr said. "We went into him in the post to use him as a passer with our cutters around him. He was tremendous."

Durant (40 points on 12 of 31 shooting) and Westbrook (31 points on 11 of 28 shooting) didn’t get the kind of help they’d grown accustomed to in their marvelous run these past few weeks, as only two other players (Serge Ibaka with 13 points, and Anthony Morrow with 10) scored in double figures.

The Thunder took their first lead of the game (68-67) on a Westbrook three-pointer midway through the third quarter. But the Warriors, better late than never, went to work regaining momentum with a familiar formula from their historic season.

Green, who had a combined plus-minus rating of minus-73 in his past two miserable games, wreaked havoc like he had all season long and found his way back to flex-mode. He caught Bogut’s baseball pass on the break for a fastbreak layup, converted the and-one free throw after a Serge Ibaka foul, and had the Warriors up 72-68. His offensive rebound – high above two Thunder defenders – and putback layup put the Warriors up 74-70. The Warriors led 81-77 entering the fourth.

A missing spark had been lit, and the fire spread from there in the most unexpected of ways.

With Thunder starters Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Adams on the floor (with reserve Dion Waiters) to start the fourth, a Warriors lineup of Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingston, Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights and Andre Iguodala extended the lead to 95-83 before a second Warriors starter returned (Curry, joining Barnes).

The 6 p.m. Pacific tipoff time had presented quite the problem for the Warriors, who spent all season long enjoying one of the NBA’s best homecourt advantages during their typical 7:30 p.m. tipoff time that, inherently, helps fans avoid the many traffic issues in this region. So real was the empty-seat struggle in Game 1 and Game 1 here, in fact, that coach Steve Kerr had issued a plea to fans via the team’s social media avenues to leave work early and help their favorite team with the kind of noise for which this place is so well known.

Alas, that moment didn’t truly occur until midway through the second quarter.

Curry, who controls the volume knob in his home building like no one else in the NBA, had been quiet through the game’s first 18 minutes. He took just three shots, all while passing up several open looks and playing a strangely passive style for such a crucial game. But 58 seconds later, after a turnaround fadeaway that fell, a three-pointer from the right wing and a finger roll layup on the left side that put the Warriors up 47-39, the place finally erupted.

It was a familiar scene, with Curry pumping his arms at the crowd in the corner while howling at a sea of yellow shirts. They would stay happy through halftime, as the Warriors – who had given up 72 first-half points to the Thunder in each of the last two games – led 58-50 at the break.

With a Thunder team that relies so heavily on attacking the basket, it certainly helped that Warriors center Andrew Bogut avoided the kind of foul trouble that had plagued him in this series. He was the anchor of a defensive effort in which they held the Thunder to 41.3% shooting, with Durant and Westbrook a 10 of 29 from the field after two quarters. All those problems with Thunder second-chance opportunities that haunted them in Oklahoma City were limited, too, as the Warriors had the rebounding edge (35 to 34).

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