Yes, for sure, the Oklahoma City Thunder made tactical adjustments that helped them in Game 3. They went small early, with Andre Roberson at power forward, rather than going huge, as they had in the first two games; they used Roberson as a screener instead of parking him in the corner where the Warriors could ignore him; they attacked Draymond Green off the dribble, on the perimeter, instead of letting him bait them into an unfavorable guerrilla war in the paint; they got out and ran, off makes and misses.
That’s all good stuff, and it all helped. It’s also somewhat beside the point. The Thunder didn’t whomp the dicks off the Warriors because Andre Roberson set some screens. They whomped the dicks off the Warriors because of shit like this:
That is to say, they crumpled the puny Warriors up and hook-shot them into the trash because Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant played like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, finally.
The Thunder spent the first two games of the series in a miserly defensive crouch, like an overmatched fighter hoping to clinch and counter his way to an ugly split decision. Probably that made sense, on the road: The Warriors really are one of the deadliest basketball teams in history, and as the second half of Game 2 showed, they can blow a close game wide open in mere moments.
The problem was, in the effort to protect themselves against Golden State’s strengths, the Thunder were playing against their own, too. Being conservative with shot-selection and hyper-judicious with the ball, grinding out miserable 23.9-second possessions one after another in a cynical effort to prevent the game from opening up into a, y’know, game—that’s some actuarial latter-day Chris Paul shit. It may be the right way for a generic basketball team to solve the Warriors, but the Thunder are not a generic basketball team. They have two of the best four basketball players on the planet. Ceding the terms of the engagement—Better not take any chances, or the big bad guys will crush us!—is antithetical to everything Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant stand for. They are the big bad guys! Last night, at home, they finally seemed to remember it, and it made all the difference.
Russ attacked, and attacked, and attacked. Off misses, and off makes. When Klay Thompson was guarding him, and when Steph Curry was guarding him, and when Draymond Green was guarding him. When he had one defender in front of him, and when he had three. His spotty jumper wasn’t a problem for him, because he made his speed and explosion and aggression into a problem for Golden State. His relentlessness kept the action from compressing into the 23 feet nearest the basket, so Durant finally had room to take big Kevin Durant strides, to make big swooping runs in the open court instead of trying to pick his way for open looks through thickets of swiping arms.
The Warriors had no answers. Neither Steph nor Klay played all that horribly; they played on their heels, because that’s where the Thunder put them. Green had a putrid game, but it didn’t happen in a vacuum: the Thunder snatched the spirit out of him by making him into a traffic cone in the first half. His crane-kick to Steven Adams’s dick and balls was the best play he made all night: it only cost the Warriors a single point.
The Dubs will make smart adjustments, even if only to their intensity level; Oklahoma City’s aggression won’t catch them by surprise in Game 4, which promises to feature the most furious basketball the Warriors have played in months, as they try to snatch back home-court advantage coming into the series’s endgame. They genuinely were the best team in the NBA this season, and they’re probably still the favorites. But this is the template for the Thunder, over and beyond the details of who exactly is setting the screens and who’s playing power forward: Let Westbrook and Durant go. Who knows whether they will, but they absolutely can beat the Warriors, straight up, chest to chest, on pure wattage, dictating the terms all the way. Let the assholes on the other team concern themselves with solutions, and let Russ and KD be what they were born to be: big fucking problems.