The Oklahoma City Thunder are formidable, potent and rife with potential. And in the span of six days they’ve taken two games over the course of six days from a team that needed 64 days to register its second regular-season loss.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
OKC downed Golden State, a team that finished the regular season with a 73-9 record, 133-105 on Sunday evening. The Thunder took Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, earning a 2-1 series lead and pushing the Warriors to its third 2-1 postseason deficit in two years. The Thunder rallied from Draymond Green’s latest incident with Oklahoma City center Steven Adams to finish the second half on a 22-5 run and 67-38 splurge spread out over 18 minutes to send Golden State back to the drawing board for the second time in a week.
Russell Westbrook paced Oklahoma City with 30 points, eight boards and 12 assists, while Kevin Durant added 33 points and eight rebounds; both in around 32 minutes of action. Golden State’s famed backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 42 points while working just 29 minutes apiece in the loss, but no other Warrior scored in double figures.
Not only did the Thunder double up the defending champs in the second quarter, working on a 38-19 run overall, but the team put together a 45-point third quarter, at one point taking a 41-point lead. OKC entered the fourth quarter – mostly extended garbage time – with 117 points; it ranked as just the fifth time all season that a team scored as much in a regulation-sized game against Golden State, much less three periods’ worth of work.
The Thunder did its damage by furiously attacking the backpedaling GSW defense off misses, mostly long rebounds. The Warriors missed 23 3-pointers in the loss and were crushed on the boards by a 52-38 margin. Usually raw rebounding stats barely tell a major chunk of the story, but in this instance one can see where the Thunder sprung their spark.
Better yet, without piling on during a fourth quarter mostly played by reserves, significant parts of the Thunder’s rotation came to life.
Serge Ibaka once again emerged from anonymity to contribute 14 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals in the win – acting as the looming defensive force that made life so unpleasant for opposing offenses for years prior to this season. Reserve swingman Dion Waiters continued his turn of steady play (I know, right?) with 13 points, and big man Enes Kanter added 10 points and 12 rebounds off the pine.
Meanwhile, oft-maligned shooting guard Andre Roberson followed through to his way toward 13 points and six defensive rebounds in 30 minutes, hitting 3 of 5 looks from long range.
A team effort to be admired, to be sure. Make no mistake, though: Oklahoma City’s supply side was strong, and the team feasts on a brand of trickle-down economics. It all started, if not finished, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
“They didn’t have the best record in the NBA for nothing,” Westbrook told TNT’s Craig Sager following the game, adding that his Thunder understood they had to use their dynamic physical gifts to their advantage.
“Be physical. We got a physical team, an athletic team, and we have to use that to the best of our ability.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr had plenty of time to digest things, with his team entering the final period facing a 37-point deficit, and he got right to the point following the loss:
“We got our butts kicked,” he said just moments after mentioning Los Angeles’ famed 34-point Finals loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the 1985 NBA Finals. “It doesn’t matter if it’s [a loss by] one point or 30, you have to look at the tape and figure out how you can be better, and you come back with a better effort. But [the Thunder] were the more desperate team tonight.”
That doesn’t figure to change in Game 4, despite Oklahoma City’s rather comfortable 2-1 series margin.
As was the case on Golden State’s bench, the Thunder had the entirety of the fourth quarter to ponder just how strongly the Warriors will come out for Tuesday evening’s Game 4. With that in place, the Thunder have also had nearly four years to reflect on the near-miss NBA championship run that saw them dive into the Finals in 2012, only to be felled by ill-timed injuries in the three postseasons that followed.
That will play into the desperation. As will the ease that Golden State has earned though 19 months of legendarily great basketball: Golden State knows it could fly back from Oklahoma City this week with a 3-1 series deficit, and still have as good a chance as any team in league history in taking three in a row and the series.
How that plays into either side’s motivation remains to be seen. What sits in cement, though, is the idea that in spite of two straight blowout wins for either side, this Western Conference final remains as compelling as any pairing in NBA history.
- - - - - - -