Before last night, the Warriors’ 12 losses this season could mostly be put into one of three buckets: somebody was injured, somebody on the opposing team went supernova, or the Warriors played like dogshit. It isn’t a slight, nor inaccurate, to say that the Warriors—who finished the regular season with the best record in the history of the NBA—lost their losses moreso than their opponent beat them.
But last night a healthy, well-rested Warriors team got comprehensively beaten down by the Thunder. Some of the stats are Barry Bonds Alien God stuff:
- The Thunder went on a 97-65 run to close the game
- After the Draymond Green nut kick was adjudicated, the Thunder closed the second quarter on a 22-5 run
- Green finished -43, Klay Thompson finished -41, Steph Curry finished -39, and Andre Iguodala finished -39
- Green’s -43 was the worst in NBA playoff history
- Serge Ibaka finished +42, Russell Westbrook finished +41, and Kevin Durant finished +36
- Andre Roberson made three three-pointers, tied for his career high, which he originally set last week against the Spurs
- The Thunder shot 89 percent on 37 free throw attempts, which only happens about once per season
- The Thunder’s 117 points (!) at the end of three quarters was the third most in NBA playoff history
As singularly dominant as the Thunder were last night, it was almost possible to write the loss off as an anomalous occurrence of everything going right for the Thunder, and nothing going right for the Warriors. A disquieting occurrence, mind you, but the Warriors are notoriously bad in Game 3's, and the Thunder have been rolling for the past two weeks.
But the loss can’t be written off, because for the first time in memory, the Warriors’ Death Lineup was a disaster.
The Death Lineup, featuring Curry, Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Iguodala, and Green, has been their not-so-secret weapon over the past two seasons. Steve Kerr typically turns to it in the final four minutes or so of the fourth quarter in order to win the game, and sometimes earlier to claw back a lead or take the lead in a back-and-forth game.
At its most basic, the lineup works because Draymond Green can guard centers but centers can’t guard him, and Barnes and Iguodala can guard power forwards, but power forwards can’t guard them. The Thunder are forced to either stay big and win the rebound battle but watch Enes Kanter and Steven Adams get filleted on the perimeter, or match the Warriors by going small and watch their defensive rotations go out of whack and fall prey to swarming bodies because of a lack of a low post threat.
The Warriors went to the Death Lineup in earnest with 3:06 remaining in the second quarter while down 13, a completely manageable deficit, especially considering Curry’s propensity for going super saiyan. The Death Lineup would trim the deficit to seven before half, they’d have some momentum, and the Warriors would come out in the third and blast the Thunder.
But in the final 3:06 the Warriors scored a single Curry free throw, while the Thunder scored 13 points to make it an ultimately insurmountable 25-point halftime deficit. What was most important though wasn’t that the Thunder outscored the Warriors, but how they did so.
Those final three minutes featured Durant blocking a Green layup and drilling a pull-up three in Iguodala’s face on the other end:
And Dion Waiters blowing by Green for a monster slam:
And Green committing what Warriors fans lovingly refer to as the Monta Ellis Special, idiotically fouling a shooting Westbrook 30 feet from the hoop with under two seconds remaining.
In the third quarter, making one last attempt to scratch back into the game, the Warriors went to the Death Lineup for two-and-a-half minutes. It went minus seven, making the Death Lineup a ghastly -22 in 6:34 of game time. In 172 minutes during the regular season, by contrast, the Death Lineup was +166, an outrageous number for how few minutes it played together.
I still think the Warriors are going to beat the Thunder and win the NBA Finals, though I’m also a homer whose favorite player is Draymond Green and who wrote this before last season’s playoffs began, so take that statement for whatever it’s worth. But Steve Kerr is in a deeply uncomfortable position here, having to decide whether his safety blanket has grown ratty, or to take the Steve Clifford position that adjustments are overrated, and believe that last night was just a blip on the Death Lineup’s radar.
Either way, Game 4 is going to be the most fascinating game of the playoffs.