The 73-win Golden State Warriors are going back to Oakland down 3-1 in the Western Conference finals. For the second game in a row at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Warriors at their own game, pushing the ball in transition and thriving in chaos.
Just like in Game 3, the Thunder scored 72 points in the first half. They led by as many as 20 points, and the final score was 118-94. It was the first time Golden State has lost two consecutive games all season.
Five things to know:
1. Russell Westbrook outplayed Stephen Curry again
This terrifying Oklahoma City transition attack is predicated on Westbrook pushing the ball as fast as anyone in NBA history. Defensively, Curry is playing Westbrook about as well as he possibly can, but the Warriors cannot afford to let Westbrook run this much. The Thunder star finished with 36 points on 12-for-27 shooting, plus 11 assists, 11 rebounds and four steals. He made four of his eight 3-pointers. He had six turnovers, too, but that didn't matter.
Curry did not exactly have a dominant evening. He shot 6-for-20 and scored 19 points. He struggled to create separation and it made you wonder how much his knee is still bothering him, even though he insisted that he is "fine." Curry had a 3-pointer blocked by Steven Adams. He had six turnovers, and they definitely mattered.
It would be silly to reduce this series to the point guard matchup, but it should not be this one-sided when the MVP is involved. Curry has seen every type of defense imaginable, and he normally can do whatever he wants anyway. This is different.
Of course, after everything he has done, it would be crazy to think that Oklahoma City has solved him. The Thunder are trying to do what the rest of the league tries to do -- make him uncomfortable, get their hands up on his shots and take away his passing lanes -- but they are doing it more effectively. When Curry is at his best, though, he makes game plans redundant. Do not be surprised if he simply makes more plays next time.
2. Andre Roberson is punishing Golden State
After playing just 15 minutes in the Warriors' lone win, Roberson got 30 minutes on Sunday and 40 in Game 4. Oklahoma City is taking advantage of the fact that Golden State is ignoring him -- both Westbrook and Kevin Durant are actively trying to find him on cuts.
Roberson has always been an excellent defender, but the Thunder have had to sacrifice their offense to keep him on the court. He was effective on both ends here, finishing with a career-high 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting, plus 12 rebounds, three assists, five steals and two blocks. If he's going to play like Shawn Marion, OKC has a shot at a title.
"After Game 2, people are saying to me, is this guy going to even play anymore?" Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said. "Andre's a good basketball player, and I think sometimes the things that go missing with him is he makes winning plays and he's a winning player. There's a lot of things he can do. He offensive rebounds. He slashes to the basket. I have confidence in him shooting the basketball. He's a great worker."
Sidenote: Roberson could have scored even more! He missed six of his eight free throw attempts.
3. Kevin Durant is out-Draymonding Draymond
OK, maybe Draymond isn't a verb, but Durant has been the best do-it-all, positionless superhero in this series. Everyone knows that Draymond Green has redefined stardom, so what do you call it when a "traditional" franchise player does everything that Green does? The Thunder are beating the Warriors with "small" lineups with Durant at power forward, but they aren't actually sacrificing size or length. Sound familiar?
Durant is routinely making multiple-effort plays on defense and protecting the rim while handling his normal offensive load. He had a monster stat line of 26 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, four steals and three blocks, but his sheer determination to do whatever his team needed stood out the most.
Green, on the other hand, is struggling at the worst possible time. He missed six of his seven shots and turned the ball over six times. The league leader in plus-minus was -30 in 38 minutes. More specifically, he is minus-73 over the past two games, which is the worst two-game stretch in NBA history. In last year's NBA Finals, Green was off for the first three games, then got his mojo back. Golden State requires a similar rejuvenation now.
"He's gotten us here," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. "He's a huge part of our success this year, and we just need him to play like Draymond. Like get that dog from him, and he will. He's a very accountable player. Obviously he's been off the last two nights; that happens. Lucky for us it's the first [to] four. Things are looking pretty grim right now, but at the end of the day, we're going home, and we know what we've got to do."
4. The Warriors seem rattled
It is weird to type that, and much stranger to see. Golden State, now losers of two in a row for the first time all season, earned the best record in NBA history because it was able to overwhelm opponents with shooting, pace and defensive versatility. On the rare occasion that the Warriors couldn't dictate the style of play, they could adapt to whatever was thrown at them. They persevered when key players were injured, and they fought back from deficits that should have been insurmountable.
Sometimes, they got sloppy, but it was clearly not that big of an issue until now. Oklahoma City has forced their best playmakers to rush shots and make silly passes.
"I thought we competed tonight, but we didn't play very intelligently," Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. "Way too many turnovers, careless passes. This is probably the longest team in the league that we're facing, and we are continuing to try to throw passes over the top of their outstretched arms. It's probably not a great idea."
As much as possible, Golden State has to make this series about half-court execution, and then it has to execute better than this. That's easier said than done against a team as athletic as the Thunder, especially with them playing such disciplined defense. Perhaps going home will calm the Warriors down. Vegas certainly thinks so, as it has the Warriors as big favorites to at least push the series to a sixth game.
5. No one will remember the quarter of Klay
In the third quarter, Thompson absolutely took over, scoring 19 straight Golden State points and getting his team back in the game. Once he got hot, the Warriors looked for him on every possession, and he kept finding ways to get his shot off, even when it looked impossible. Look at the degree of difficulty on this 3-pointer over Durant:
The closest Golden State got was within six points, but this kind of thing should give Golden State a little bit of hope. Despite what Oklahoma City is doing, the Splash Brothers can get going with no warning. Curry is usually the one to go on a ridiculous run, but Thompson is just as capable.
"I just told myself have one of those quarters," Thompson said. "I mean, we're already down so much. Why not go out there and start gunning, make a couple quick shots, keep being aggressive? I'm trying to carry that same aggressiveness into Thursday night from the jump. Just trying to get to the rim as much as possible, find my teammates and just be a problem that way."
Game 5 is Thursday at Oracle Arena.