9:00 PM EST, TNT – Line: Pick ’em, Over/Under: 222
Who could have seen this coming? After amassing a Regular Season record seventy-three victories the Golden State Warriors (73-9, 1st in Pacific Division) have fallen behind two games to one in the Western Conference Finals against a very game Oklahoma City Thunder. To say that Game Four will decide this series is certainly hyperbole, but it still doesn’t change the fact that few could have imagined that the defending champions would find themselves in such trouble at this juncture. After all, everyone pretty much penciled them for a return tot he NBA Finals at the least, right? No eraser required. Then again, if these kinds of games were decided on paper then where would the fun and suspense be? Anyways, after shocking 133-105 drubbing at the hands of the Thunder Sunday Night, Steve Kerr and his charges must be on high alert, because there is simply no way to sugarcoat the way they were manhandled at Chesapeake Energy Arena. For the second time in this series, the Dubs struggled from the field, shooting a mere 41.3% from the floor, including 10-of-33 from beyond the arc (303%), which is certainly below their lofty standards. Granted, Oklahoma City’s suffocating defense played a rather sizable role in their struggles, but indeed few would recognize this group that had previously captivated us throughout the course of the past ix months. No, Golden State was relegated to just nineteen assists on thirty-eight field goals, while committing fourteen turnovers leading to eighteen points for the home side. Furthermore, they were never able to get much going in transition, accumulating a scant thirteen Fast Break Points, which is a direct indication of the pace that they operated at in possession of the basketball. Believe it or not, the visitors yielded a ridiculous 117 points through three quarters of play, trailing by thirty-seven points before entering the final stanza of action. Two-time MVP Steph Curry was one of just a pair of Warriors to reach double-figures, totaling twenty-four points on 7-of-17 shooting from the field (41.2%), including just 3-of-11 from beyond the arc (27.3%), along with five rebounds, three assists, and a pair of steals. Klay Thompson added another eighteen points on 8-of-19 shooting from the floor (42.1%), including 2-of-8 from downtown (25.0%), all the while being turned over three times, which equaled the amount of rebounds, assists, and steals he was able to register. As for the rest of the team, everyone else struggled, particularly Draymond Green, who could only muster nine points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field, including four rebounds, three assists, and a steal. However, the versatile Forward stole the headlines for all the wrong reasons as he kicked Oklahoma City big man Steven Adams in the groin on the follow through of a jump shot, prompting many to proclaim it as intentional. Over the past twenty-four hours there has been a wealth of speculation in regards towards whether or not he would be suspended for tonight’s contest, but the NBA released the statement that Green would NOT be disciplined for his actions, perhaps chalking it up to the intensity of the postseason. Either way, the Warriors certainly dodged a major blow, for the prospect of leaving Chesapeake Energy Arena with the series tied at two games apiece becomes a far less daunting task with the fourth-year veteran in the lineup. And with all that said, Sunday’s embarrassment was just one game, and we sincerely doubt that the reigning champs will panic after such a display; after all they were down two games to one against Cleveland in last year’s NBA Finals before rallying their way to their first NBA Title in forty years.
Meanwhile, it would be hard to imagine the Thunder (55-27, 1st in Northwest Division) playing better basketball than they are at the moment. All the credit in the world must go to Billy Donovan, who has lit one helluva fire under his charges, who are firing on all cylinders three games into the Western Conference Finals. For the second time in this series, Oklahoma City had their way with Golden State on the offensive end of the floor, shooting a sublime 50.0% from the field, despite only netting a rather pedestrian 8-of-25 form beyond the arc (32.0%). But that wasn’t where the hosts made their bones, for they were clearly the more aggressive side, and were often rewarded by the officials in kind. The home side outscored their opponent by eighteen points in the paint, and were once again able to own the glass, holding a significant 62-48 margin on the boards, which was key given that they were able to limit the defending champs to one shot on the majority of their possessions. But back to the matter of being rewarded for their aggressiveness; Oklahoma attempted a whopping thirty-seven free-throws, of which they calmly knocked thirty-three, which went a long way towards establishing their control of tempo throughout the night, owning a nineteen-point advantage in that regard. Hell, the dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were a stellar 21-of-23 by themselves (91.3%) from the Charity Stripe themselves. Simply put, when these guys are both on clicking at the same time, this becomes a very difficult team to defend; the former scored a game-high thirty-three points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field (66.7%), including 1-of-3 from deep (33.3%), along with eight rebounds, a pair of assists, and three blocks, while the latter nearly came away with a Triple-Double, racking up thirty points of his own on 10-of-19 shooting from the floor, with eight rebounds, a dozen assists, and a pair of steals. However, the key word from Sunday’s resounding victory was balance, as the Thunder were far more than a two-man band, proving to be greater than the sum of their parts, as the supporting cast made an impact in a major way. Four other players scored in double-figures for Donovan’s team, with Serge Ibaka and Andre Roberson accounting for fourteen and thirteen points respectively, while Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters caught fire off the Bench, scoring a combined twenty-three points. Roberson in particular proved to be a bit of a revelation, making the Warriors pay for leaving him open, shooting 5-of-9 from the floor (55.6%), including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc (60.0%). Add it all together and it’s unsurprising that their 133-point performance matched a record for the most points scored in franchise history. the only question that remains at this point is whether or not Oklahoma City has it in them to continue to play at this torrid level, particularly on the defensive end where their pressure has been absolutely sensational. Throughout each of their victories, the Warriors have rarely seen a clear look at the rim, with their length and athleticism causing the aforementioned pairing of Curry and Thompson all kinds of problems on the perimeter. This is about effort, folks, and the Thunder haven’t been lacking in that department since the beginning of the Playoffs, and we’ll see if they have enough in their tank to see them through to the Finals.