The Golden State Warriors stiff-armed elimination in Game 5 by protecting the rim on defense and attacking it on the other end. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot just 5-of-17 from behind the three-point line, but, more importantly, they went 19-of-20 from the charity stripe.
That may not seem like a huge deal, but fouls and free throws are a huge part of controlling tempo, setting up half-court defense and disallowing opportunities in transition. Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan understands this more than anyone:
Billy Donovan: "The difference in the game is they got to the free throw line 34 times"— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 27, 2016
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In this series, when the Thunder get to the free-throw line, they win. They attempted 10 fewer than the Warriors in Game 5's nine-point loss, 11 more in Game 4, 12 more in Game 3, nine fewer in Game 2 and 15 more in Game 1. In the entire postseason, Oklahoma City is averaging 27.9 free throws per game to Golden State's 25.5.
They average one free-throw attempt per every three field goal attempts, which is by far the highest free-throw rate among the four teams left standing. Kevin Durant finished with 13 free-throw attempts in Game 5, but 11 came in the second half.
Billy Donovan spent most of the past 10 mins just stink-eyeing ref Marc Davis like Davis just intentionally rear ended his car.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 27, 2016
If Golden State finishes this game without any fouls that would be amazing.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 27, 2016
Whistles that blew in Games 3 and 4, when Oklahoma City managed to get Andrew Bogut in foul trouble and were able to race up and down the floor with their proverbial small lineup, didn't in Game 5.
Considering Bogut was able to stay in the game and protect the paint, it's safe to say that Oklahoma City's relative lack of free-throw attempts was even more meaningful than the influx for Golden State.
First seven fouls of the game went against the Thunder...— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 27, 2016
Like Curry going into the shot-blockers' bodies there. Feels like trying to get OKC's main dudes in foul trouble would be a good idea.— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) May 27, 2016
Even though it's silly to suggest that a string of non-calls in the first half are what ultimately decided Game 5's outcome, it's still frustrating, from the Thunder's perspective, to not have game-to-game consistency from the officials (who, by the way, do an all-around terrific job!).
All that said, Game 6 will be a good time regardless.