OAKLAND, Calif. -- Kevin Durant uncoiled his near 7-foot frame, threw a white, button-down jacket over his shoulders and started his postgame availability following the Oklahoma City Thunder's closely contested 116-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.
Durant answered questions with standard poise and stoicism, doing his best to shrug off the 48 minutes that just happened and maintain the story he and the Thunder told in the days leading up to this night: It's only one game, it's just February, we'll see them again.
That might've been what they said; but how they played said something different. There was a clear edge and emotion to them that carried over to the locker room postgame. This loss didn't have the "it's no big deal, we move on" talking points to it. Durant, especially, wanted this one. He broke his usual rotation to play 15 straight minutes in the second half, the entire third quarter and the first three of the fourth. He launched an uncharacteristic, standstill 30-footer that looked like something, you know, Stephen Curry would take. Durant picked up a technical foul in the first half, and stayed angry at the officiating throughout. He came up with two big transition stops to start the fourth quarter, letting out a flailing, full-body fist pump after blocking a Shaun Livingston dunk attempt.
The Thunder have felt overlooked, taking the widely accepted notion that the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are predestined to meet in the Western Conference Finals as a personal slight. They roared out of the gates to a 9-0 lead, only to fall victim to the Warriors' churning offensive furnace, trailing by as many as 20 in the first half.
The Warriors posted 73 points on the Thunder in the first half, and looked set to crank up the blowout machine like they did against the Cavs and Spurs in those other marquee matchups. Instead, the Thunder pushed back, holding the Warriors to 43 in the second half and eventually tying the game 104-104 with 3:25 left.
And then they had their chances. Down 105-104 with 3:09 left, a Russell Westbrook attack ended with the ball agonizingly crawling its way off the rim. Another Thunder stop, another chance with a pull-up Durant 3 clipping front-rim. The Warriors answered with a Curry layup. Another Durant 3 with two minutes left rattled in and out, and the Warriors responded again with a Klay Thompson 3. Three chances, three missed opportunities. The Warriors have an uncanny knack of taking advantage of theirs, and with a Draymond Green offensive rebound, they sealed it with another Curry layup with the shot clock nearly drained.
It feels as if the Thunder did something, though, at least denting the impenetrable armor of the unbeatable. The Warriors have won 97 straight games when they lead any game by 15 points or more, and the Thunder were a Durant 3 from taking control in clutch-time.
"That's what we're supposed to do," Durant said of the comeback. "When we get down, we're supposed to tie the game up. No moral victories in here."
That's the state of the situation with regards to the Warriors, in which losing by eight fosters encouragement and upside. The Thunder did what the other two perceived top dogs couldn't do -- hang with them. But in the end, they left Oracle Arena with the same result.
"I wanted to win. That's every game. We want to win every game. It sucks losing," Durant said. "Around here, we're accustomed to winning games, so to lose, we hate it."
Playing the Warriors is different than other teams because it's an opportunity for self-reflection, to walk away with a better understanding of who you are and what you need to be. The Thunder had to wait until Feb. 6 for their shot at it, and while they do walk away with just their fourth loss since Christmas, they also confirmed what they already believed: The Warriors aren't to be feared.
"Man, we're not scared of neither one of those teams," Durant said, including the Spurs. "We're going to play our game. Nobody in this locker room is scared. We gotta play 'em. If we want to get to where we want to get to, we gotta play 'em. We're not ducking nobody."
The always-confident Westbrook said, "I mean they're a pretty good team. But it's not nothing we're seen before. We'll be ready to play them next time."
Here's the thing, though: It is something they haven't seen before. In fact, it's something nobody has ever seen before, a team 46-4 after 50 games. The Warriors are the standard, the measure by which you have to overcome. And the Thunder have two more cracks at the riddle in the regular season before any potential postseason matchup.
They were quietly confident with the matchup beforehand. And they confirmed it, at least proving they can play with them. They learned that Enes Kanter can, in fact, be an impactful participant (14 points and 15 rebounds in 20 minutes). They learned that Westbrook still presents a nightmare for Curry to guard (27 points and 12 assists). They learned they can play big and create matchups issues for the Warriors' small ball, mostly because of Durant's incredible elasticity. And they learned why the Warriors want to chase Durant in free agency: Because if they have him, then he can't drop 40 on them.
"It's our first time playing them, so yeah, we learned something about them," Durant said. "We came out, played hard, they played hard, it was on their home court, tough game, we lost. Black and white, man. We know what we gotta do."
Yep. Beat them.