Up 3-1, Oklahoma City has Golden State’s season on life support
Too much Russ’. Too much KD. Not enough Steph’. Not enough Dray.’
The back-to-back MVPs. The first unanimous MVP. The NBA record 73 wins. The season-long coronation as the new face of the league, which included a public service announcement with President Barack Obama. Keeping it a buck, though, Game 4 of the Western Conference finals was the biggest game of Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry’s career (at least until Thursday’s Game 5). And, by his own admission, he blew it.
“I had a terrible start to the game, and shots that I normally make when I got to the paint, I missed some layups,” Curry told The Mercury News. “It just wasn’t my night from the start.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t give a damn about any of that Tuesday night as they took a 3-1 series stranglehold in a 118-94 curb-stomping of the Warriors. But before getting to the “franchise formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics,” first to the defending champs.
Golden State out here looking like Tyson in his first fight with Holyfield right now. That veil of invincibility is getting torn down.
— Andreas Hale (@AndreasHale) May 25, 2016
Golden State didn’t just bully teams all season. Golden State went on a nationwide tour of savagery that made them the most must-see squad in the league from Oakland, California, to Orlando, Florida. Oklahoma City was a victim, where Curry had the play of the season, nailing an overtime, game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from what was basically half court.
None of it matters much, right now.
The Thunder aren’t doing anything special schemewise. They’re playing harder, hitting the Warriors in the jaw with haymaker after haymaker. Now Golden State is in its corner, eyes nearly swollen shut, cut men attempting to stop the bleeding. They know that one more clean punch from the Thunder and it’ll be nothing but tweets of Michael Jordan crying face memes from now until the Olympics start.
Curry may very well be dealing with the ramifications of the knee injury sustained against the Houston Rockets in the first round. But he’s out there. He’s playing, even putting on one of those vintage Curry firework shows in Game 2. And while the league is much better served with a totally healthy Chef Curry, not many are willing to cry for the Warriors in terms of injuries defining the outcome of a series, not when opponents’ injuries and their good health factored into their 2015 championship run.
In the biggest game of Curry’s reign, a game the Warriors absolutely needed to win, Curry went 6-for-20 field with more turnovers than assists.
Despite Oklahoma City’s 2012 Finals loss to the Miami Heat, many believed a budding dynasty was beginning to take shape there. For good reason, too. Their core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and then James Harden (who is now with Houston) were young and loved playing together. Then, the Harden trade happened. Then, Houston’s Patrick Beverley taking a dive at Westbrook’s knee happened. Then, Durant’s foot injury happened. And suddenly the Thunder felt like the new Shaquille O’Neal-Penny Hardaway Orlando Magic, a team talented beyond belief but one that could never escape fate.
At times this season, Oklahoma City came off as a team barreling toward another postseason disappointment with Durant’s free agency looming as the 7-foot elephant in the room. They blew too many games in the fourth quarter. And they turned the ball over too much — an issue they still struggle with on occasion.
There’s an undeniable chip on the Thunder’s shoulders. Dion Waiters has played well, earning Instagram shout-outs from fellow Philly native Meek Mill. For as frustrating as Waiters can be as a player, seeing him provide valuable minutes for a contender following the tragedy he’s dealt with this season is moving in many ways. The team, as a whole, has dealt with heartbreak far beyond basketball, too. Assistant coach Monty Williams delivered the season’s most powerful moment with an incredibly moving speech at his wife Ingrid’s funeral following her tragic death in a car accident in February. Also, the Thunder heard all year about the toasts of the conference between the team who couldn’t lose (Golden State) and the team who couldn’t lose at home (San Antonio).
One more win and they’ll have beaten both.
Just like with Curry and Golden State, the success (and immediate future) of Oklahoma City falls on the shoulders of Durant and Westbrook, two of the five best players in the solar system. People have tried to Avon and Stringer the duo for years. Westbrook shoots too much. Durant doesn’t demand the ball enough. They forget about their teammates in clutch moments. But one thing they’ve never done is turn their backs on each other. They’ve never thrown each other under the bus, opting instead for opposing players and owners.
In the past two games — including Westbrook’s 36-point, 11-rebound and 11-assist triple-double Tuesday night — Durant and Westbrook have combined to shoot 40-for-85 for 125 points, 38 rebounds, 29 assists and 10 steals. The Thunder won Games 3 and 4 by a combined 52 points.
Oklahoma City has Golden State on the ropes. A 3-1 series lead is a comfortable advantage, but it’s just that. Not a victory, an advantage. Only nine teams in NBA history have ever come back from said deficit. It wouldn’t be wise to test a team that won 73 of 82 games and an MVP who, on his best day, is in range the moment he pulls into the parking lot.
Durant and Westbrook know that the proper way to kill the “Golden Snake” is to chop off its head Thursday night. Don’t give champions the chance to prove why they’re champions. Golden State’s wounded, but there’s still venom in the bite.