With around seven minutes left in the third quarter of last night’s game, Steph Curry lost Serge Ibaka around a down-screen and hit a wide-open three to push the Warriors’ lead up to ten points. Oklahoma City mostly had managed to prevent Curry from getting that clean a look at the basket in the game-and-a-half leading to that point, and the astute Oakland crowd, sensing that the Thunder might finally be slipping, roared in anticipation of one of those insane 90-second Warriors flurries that turns a close game into a laugher. This was a Moment.
Oklahoma City needed a bucket in response. This is where it’s nice to have one of the greatest scorers in the world at one’s disposal, and the Thunder do: Kevin Durant. They got him the ball out near midcourt and cleared some room for him to cook against Harrison Barnes. And he did this:
What the hell is that? Is it a designed play? Okay, Kevin, instead of attacking, here, stand dead still and see if you can use your eyes to create a passing lane to the worst scorer on our team, 35 feet away from you, with no time to do anything. That will be a good and efficient use of our resources in this important moment.
For good measure, Durant fouled Curry in the act of shooting another three on the ensuing Warriors possession, and drew a technical foul complaining about it. It’s about as bad a sequence of play as anyone not named Kobe Bryant has produced in 2016.
Picking on this one sequence would be unfair if it weren’t just a slightly Bennie Hill’d up microcosm of Durant’s play through both of the first two games in the series. He’s been lousy. He shot efficiently last night, 29 points on 18 attempts, after a hideous 10-for-30 outing in Game 1, but that’s more than a little misleading: for one thing, he scored 25 of last night’s points in the first half, then all but disappeared; in the decisive third quarter, he only got up two shots but found time for three fouls and three of his eight ghastly turnovers.
In the postgame presser, Durant explained his second-half power outage by saying the Warriors were “sending three guys, you know, and I just tried to make the right pass.” That’s a fine explanation, as far as it goes—you can get a glimpse of what he means in the disastrous possession up above, with Draymond Green hanging out at the free-throw line and not even pretending to mind his man, Andre Roberson, and both Curry and Klay Thompson ready to dive at Durant and swipe at the ball if he drives toward their side of the floor—except that if the Warriors can get away with running three defenders at Oklahoma City’s best player because he’s too imprecise and indecisive with the ball to respond with anything but turnovers, the Thunder might as well go ahead and book their vacations for next week.
(For his part, Russell Westbrook hasn’t been much better. He exploded in the third quarter of Game 1, but outside of that quarter, he’s shooting 27 percent and looks completely unsure of himself at the offensive end of the floor. To his credit, he’s been doing yeoman’s work on defense trying to contain the Splash Brothers, and that 24:6 assist-to-turnover ratio is a hell of a lot better than Durant’s 4:13.)
They were never going to sweep. Earning a split of the two opening road games and snatching home-court advantage away from Golden State despite getting maybe a grand combined total of 20 minutes or so of Durant and Westbrook playing to their abilities is quite an accomplishment, in its way. But if last night’s first half offered a tantalizing glimpse of the heights this series can reach, with Durant trading power shots with the best regular-season team in NBA history, then the third quarter offered a preview of what it will be if he doesn’t get his shit together, and soon. I’m sure Warriors fans loved it.