If the Western Conference Finals is going to be the seven-game classic most people anticipated, then the 73-win Warriors have a tremendous amount of work to do.
The Thunder have jumped out to a 3-1 series lead and can punch their ticket to the NBA Finals with a win in Game 5 in Oakland tonight. Oklahoma City was able to do something that wasn’t done in the NBA this season; hand the Warriors consecutive losses.
Many people saw this series being tied after the first four games, but that has not been the case as the Thunder have had other intentions. In Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City, the Thunder flexed their muscles and showed why they were an early season favorite to win the NBA championship.
History is on the side of Oklahoma City as teams that take a 3-1 series lead in the Conference Finals have gone on to win 37 of 39 times. Of those 37 teams, 20 have closed things out in Game 5. Those are pretty good odds.
The Warriors were the best team throughout the regular season without question, but now that magical season is in serious jeopardy. If Golden State is unable to come back from this 3-1 series deficit and advance to and eventually win the NBA Championship, the 73 wins will mean nothing. Sure, they would be able to boast the best regular season record of all time, but that isn’t the ultimate goal, especially for the reigning defending champions.
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant had to have felt some type of way when a lot of “experts” and armchair analysts were picking the Warriors to win in five or six games. Now the two dynamic superstars have a golden opportunity to deliver yet another knockout blow, this time to the biggest opponent in the fight.
In Game 3, the Thunder led the Warriors by 41 points at one point in the game. Yes, you read that correctly, 41 points. Normally this is what Steph Curry and company were accustomed to doing to their opponents with their lethal shooting from beyond the arc. On Sunday night, we saw them on getting demolished and that might be the start of the Thunder rattling off three-straight victories in route to the NBA Finals.
Durant and Westbrook led the way for the Thunder to go up 2-1 in the series. Durant finished with 33 points and eight rebounds while Westbrook messed around and nearly got a triple-double with 30 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds. The duo combined to shoot 20-24 from the floor.
Oklahoma City got 14 points and eight rebounds from Serge Ibaka. Andre Roberson and Dion Waiters each added 13 points while Enes Kanter recorded a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds. OKC won the battle on the boards 52-38 and shot 50% for the game.
Golden State did not look like the same 73-win team. Steph Curry led the way with 24 points and Klay Thompson followed with 18 points. Draymond Green had a stat line that baseball pitchers would love, 6 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists. Green completed the double play when he connected with a kick to the groin of Thunder center Steven Adams. Green was not ejected, nor was he suspended. Instead, he was fined $25,000. Durant told reporters that he knew the NBA wouldn’t suspend Green as he is a premier player in the league.
Game 4 saw the Thunder really hit the accelerator and put a stranglehold on this series in a 118-94 victory. Westbrook finally got his first playoff triple-double of this postseason with 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Durant had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Ibaka had 17 points and seven rebounds. Roberson had a breakout game scoring a career-high 17 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Thompson led the way for the Warriors, scoring 26 points including 19 consecutive Golden State points in the third quarter. Curry struggled from the field, scoring 19 points on 6-20 shooting. Some even questioned the health of Curry’s right knee. Steve Kerr said that is isn’t injured and if he was, he wouldn’t be playing. The Thunder have done a nice job of defending Curry thus far in the series.
Green continued to not look himself and look discombobulated. He scored 6 points for a second-straight game, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out just 2 assists. For being second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, he hasn’t backed that up this series as the Thunder are finding ways to torch him.
Westbrook always plays with a chip on his shoulder and even more so in this series. All season long, he had to listen to any and every one say that Curry was the best point guard in the league. In this series, Westbrook, not Curry has been the better point guard. Westbrook has a deep arsenal that he can use if his jumpers aren’t falling where Curry is a fantastic shooter but has struggled when taller Oklahoma City defenders are guarding him.
Durant is hungry for that elusive championship and has his team one win away from competing for the richest prize in the game. Nobody really gave the Thunder a chance heading into the series and now here they are, ready to take that next step and crunch the jugular of the 73-win team.
Rookie head coach Billy Donovan has been the better coach in this series over the Coach of the Year Kerr. Donovan has made all the adjustments necessary to get his team within a game of the NBA Finals. Often times, it looks as if Kerr doesn’t have the answers or advice his players seek.
To me, this series is over, whether that is in Golden State tonight or Oklahoma City in Game 6. Many expected and wanted this series to go the distance, but Oklahoma City is on a mission.