OKLAHOMA CITY – These Golden State Warriors are a rollicking, rolling party bus, the loudest and surest sounds forever coming out of this corner of the dressing room. For now, Draymond Green gathered himself in the stillness of the air, uncomfortable with the morose mood surrounding him. He sifted through text messages on his phone and confessed the truth over a sudden and spectacular failure in these Western Conference finals.
"It's stunning," Green told The Vertical. "This is not where we expected to be."
Alone in the corner of the locker room – only the sound of showers in the distance – Green considered the circumstances of the Oklahoma City Thunder train running through these wobbly Warriors. The Warriors are down 3-1, the greatest regular season in NBA history slipping away on a lost trip to America's dust bowl.
"Yeah, it's pretty stunning," Green said.
Within a devastating 118-94 loss, the agony manifested itself in what Green couldn't give his teammates and organization: His gratitude for staying with him through the 24-hour referendum surrounding his kick to Steven Adams' testicles. Green had cast himself the villain, and needed to push past a lousy performance in Game 3 and a national debate over the NBA's ruling to deliver his vintage self. Only, Green was worse on Tuesday night. He missed six of his seven shots, turned the ball over six times and was a minus-30 for the game.
Green should've had Chesapeake Energy Arena livid that the NBA passed on suspending him, livid that he fed upon all the anger and channeled it into the destruction of the Thunder. All his life, Green found a way to validate his villainous basketball self, and he failed on Tuesday night.
"It's who I am," Green told The Vertical. "It's what I've always done. It's what I've thrived off. It's frustrating, because I know that's who I always am.
"And right now, I'm not myself. I'm thinking too much, and that's leading to all the things that I'm not supposed to be doing.
"I just … I just have to be me."
He was talking a hushed, even tone. No bravado. The Warriors have been humbled, taken apart, piece by piece and Green found himself searching for solutions. Soon, Stephen Curry made his way back to the chair beside him, and the truth was unmistakable: No more countdowns to records, no more bows, no more bouquets. The Thunder are systematically destroying the Warriors, a merciless bludgeoning born of anger and desperation, size and speed, and spectacular skill. The Thunder have the champs in the middle of the ring and they're teeing off on them now – jab, jab and roundhouse rights leaving the Warriors bloody, bowed and on the brink.
Curry has been a shell of himself – missing shots, throwing away passes, losing his dribble and completely unable to prove that there's Curry-esque agility in that knee. "He's playing at 70 percent, at best," a source close to Curry told The Vertical. Curry refuses to make excuses, but privately the Thunder see something – no explosion, no ability to make the bigs switching onto him pay a price. Nineteen points on 20 shots Tuesday night bore no resemblance to the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player.
As much as ever, the Warriors needed to cover for Curry – and they couldn't do it. Klay Thompson was magnificent in the third quarter – scoring 19 of his 26 points – but the brilliance of these Thunder commands the best of Curry and Green for Golden State to have a chance. For months, the Warriors were playing for history. Seventy-three victories, the best team ever, and out of nowhere, Golden State is suddenly playing for its survival.
"Right there, that's what it is," Green told The Vertical. "We're the leaders of this team, and we've got to be better. Last year, when we were down 2-1 [to Memphis], we talked and we said, 'Hey, you and me have got to be better.' And right now, we both have got to be better."
Better won't be good enough against this Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook monolith. Better will get them run out of Oracle in Game 5, run out of the season. The Thunder have been hungrier, sharper and constructed to force the Warriors to adapt to them. The Warriors have to be historic again, have to be one of the great teams in history to fight themselves out of this trouble, out of a 3-1 hole.
Money Green nodded late Monday night in the bowels of Chesapeake Energy Arena, and agreed with it all. In the quiet of the losing locker room, in a private moment in the deep corner, he believed this too: "If anyone can do this," Draymond Green of the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors told The Vertical, "we can."
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