Over the course of their past two years spent dominating the NBA, the Warriors have excelled at avoiding consecutive losses and rapidly turning around playoff series in which they’ve trailed. Tonight, they had an opportunity to keep both trends alive after the Oklahoma City Thunder firebombed them out of Game 3.
Instead, well, this happened:
Then this happened:
And then Russell Westbrook formally ended things:
The Thunder are up 3-1 and a game from the Finals because of some smart coaching by Billy Donovan, Golden State’s newfound offensive ineptitude, and Dion Waiters reanimation as a useful basketball player, but mostly, man, the Thunder are just too forceful, too athletic, and simply too goddamn much for the Warriors. Scheme and tactics only get you so far towards understanding how the Warriors are on the ropes, because when Russell Westbrook is screaming into the lane and dunking in your face whenever he can and Kevin Durant is playing as well off the ball as he ever has while still hitting shots, you can’t really do shit.
Westbrook was tremendous tonight, scoring 36, grabbing 11 boards, giving out 11 assists, and stealing it four times for good measure, which was good for the first 36-11-11-4 playoff game in NBA history (per /r/NBA). Westbrook is imperfect and angular and impulsive, but he is so springy that he creates offense simply by ripping around and through opposing defenses. Defensively, he’s not a particularly effective scheme defender, but he runs and disrupts and sometimes, that’s enough. Steph Curry was invisible and when he popped up, he looked shook, hobbled, or both.
Westbrook’s running mate Kevin Durant was as good defensively as I’ve ever seen him. There was a moment during a nascent Warriors comeback where someone got a steal and tried to toss it forward, only for Durant to condor in and pluck it from the sky. It feels strange to praise a player primarily known for his shooting after a 8-for-24 game, but Durant was nails at everything else. He grabbed a bunch of rebounds (11), blocked a bunch of shots (three), and, most importantly, made it impossible for the Warriors to get into a rhythm.
From the jump, the Thunder were all-out and they never let Golden State settle into any kind of groove. The Warriors briefly flirted with making it a competitive game in the third, but that was only because Klay Thompson balled out for a little stretch until OKC yawned, woke up, and got back to torching them. It’s hard not to broach some tired cliches about EFFORT and INTENSITY here, because in the Thunder’s case, they’re all true. OKC only shot two percent better than the Warriors and they turned it over 17 times. But they grabbed every loose ball, worked for better shots than Golden State all-game long, and grabbed 16 more rebounds. The Thunder were the only team that seemed to give a fuck.
The Warriors are a gorgeous gestalt of a basketball team, full of seamless, interlocking parts that allow them to play small and big, fast and slow, pretty and ugly. But the Thunder are a team full of impossibly athletic dudes who are peaking into their horrifying final forms, and there’s only so much you can do against a team like that.