There was another kick in the Thunder-Warriors game Tuesday night. But this time it was Oklahoma City kicking Golden State hard, squarely in the gut, and it was intentional.
The Thunder seemed to be out to send a message in Game 4, and it came across loud and clear. Now the defending NBA champion Warriors are in trouble — down 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals, and almost out of time.
It didn’t matter that the NBA didn’t suspend Draymond Green for kicking Steven Adams in the groin in Game 3. It might have fueled Oklahoma City more to show it could beat the Warriors with the brash, emotional Green in the lineup. And the Thunder did that, delivering a decisive 118-94 victory last night in Oklahoma City.
It was the second straight game that the hungry, athletic Thunder dominated Stephen Curry and the Warriors. The Thunder’s margin of victory in the last two games — the first two-game losing streak for the Warriors this season — was 52 points.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook continue to be the best duo in these playoffs. Westbrook had 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists on Tuesday night. Durant scored 26, grabbed 11 rebounds, passed for four assists and blocked three shots. They want to end the series now, and they’re playing that way.
“This team is outplaying us right now,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We have to come up with some answers — it’s as simple as that.”
The Thunder and its coach, Rockville Centre’s Billy Donovan, have had all the answers thus far, slowing down the Warriors’ offense and two-time MVP Curry.
Now it’s this simple: Golden State needs to win Thursday at home to stave off elimination. That’s right, the record-setting 73-win Warriors are one loss from joining the 116-win Seattle Mariners in 2001 and the 16-0 Patriots in 2007. They established the best regular-season records in baseball and football history and didn’t win it all.
The Warriors need to win one game just to stay alive and try to get this series to a sixth game and ultimately a seventh game. The Warriors would have to make history again to advance: Teams that trail 3-1 in the conference finals are 2-37 all-time.
“We all have to bounce back,” Kerr said. “The good news is we go home. The idea now is to go home and get one win. We do that, we put some pressure on them, and we see what happens.”
Kerr knows better than that. All the pressure is on the Warriors right now.
Even if they protect their home court on Thursday, the pressure will be on Curry and Golden State to win in a very tough building and against a team that is peaking at the right time and with two legitimate superstars lifting their games at the perfect time.
Think about what the Thunder has done and is doing in these playoffs. First, it bounced the 67-win Spurs, winning Games 4 and 6 in San Antonio — where the Spurs lost once all season. Now, the Thunder has the Warriors looking vulnerable and Curry looking mortal.
Curry was 6-for-20 overall, and 2-for-10 from three-point range for 19 points. His backcourt mate Klay Thompson scored 19 straight for the Warriors in the third quarter to keep them in the game, and make up for some of Curry’s struggles.
“He just had a lousy night,” Kerr said. “It happens, even to the best players in the world. Tough night for Steph, but he’ll bounce back.”
Kerr expects the same from Green. The versatile All-Star had very little impact for the Warriors for the second straight game, but his presence might have had plenty for the Thunder. Green was 1-for-7 with six points. He’s 2-for-16 with 12 points and is a minus-73 in 70 minutes.
The Thunder’s size, length and athleticism have bothered the Warriors. Oklahoma City contested just about every shot and created extra possessions for itself. The Thunder grabbed 16 offensive rebounds — twice as many as Golden State — and helped force 21 turnovers.
Durant and Westbrook have been too much for any team to handle in these playoffs. The duo has been better than Curry and Thompson, better than LeBron James and Kyrie Irving and better than Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Westbrook and Durant are doing a great job of involving their teammates and making plays at both ends. Durant made a brilliant defensive play, jumping to try and block Green’s shot. But when Green passed it to Shaun Livingston, Durant recovered in time to go up and deny his dunk attempt.
Oklahoma City has been the team with the superior talent, the better offense and more aggressive and effective defense in this series. The champs are in trouble, and the Thunder should only be thinking about one thing: kicking the Warriors while they’re down.