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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder lived fast in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals—faster, even, than the NBA’s preeminent transition team. What began as a showcase of the league’s top two offenses soon gave way to a brutal rout. The Thunder assumed control, applied pressure and beat the Warriors at their own game en route to a 133–105 home victory. Of note: This was the worst loss (regular season and playoffs) of Steve Kerr’s tenure with the Warriors. The on-court misery was palpable for the most accomplished regular season team in NBA history.
Not much fell for the Warriors in the first half, but everything seemed to fall apart. While an assortment of Golden State players clanked decent looks at the rim, Oklahoma City ramped up its transition offense in response. Russell Westbrook (30 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds), Kevin Durant (33 points on 15 shots, eight rebounds), and Dion Waiters (13 points, three assists) were relentless. The Warriors, despite their defensive bonafides, failed to stop the ball on any consistent basis and paid dearly for it. This was as miserable a defensive showing as we’ve seen from the defending champs this postseason; Golden State has had full games of sloppy play, but none quite so mindless and disconnected.
Oklahoma City’s lead swelled to 72–47 by halftime. In 56 previous attempts, no playoff team in the shot-clock era had ever overcome a 25-point halftime deficit. The Warriors make 57.
Somehow, things only got worse for the Warriors after intermission. This was the Thunder’s explosion game—the same kind of swift, merciless burst that brought about the Spurs’ elimination in the second round. Jumpers rained, whether from Durant, Serge Ibaka, or the unattended Andre Roberson (who made three of his five long-range attempts). For much of the game, Westbrook—sometimes aided by high ball screens well above the three-point line—was able to run downhill and right past any defender in his path. The Thunder dropped a scorching 45 points during the third quarter for an effective field goal percentage of 88.6%. Any fleeting hope for the Warriors was turned to dust along with their lackluster defense.
It remains to be seen how much of Game 3’s dynamics might carry over into Game 4, but one specific possession has the potential for lasting influence. Midway through the second quarter, Draymond Green attempted to force his way up toward the rim while defended by Steven Adams. In the process, Green jumped up and kicked Adams directly in the groin—a swing of the leg that looked to be something slightly more than inadvertent. Adams was assessed a foul on the play and Green a Flagrant 1, but if the league office determines that more punishment may be necessary for Green, a Game 4 suspension would be in play. Such a suspension would not be without precedent; Cavaliers guard Dahntay Jones was just assessed a one-game suspension on Sunday for a similar hit, if one made in a more clearly deliberate manner.
Whether or not Green is suspended, the Warriors will need to provide much more defensive resistance to have any chance at tying the series. Half-efforts might have been enough to survive the Rockets and Blazers, but the Thunder can punish every mistake and force more with their length and energy. There are no more bailout possessions to be found. The Warriors trimmed their margin for error when they lost Game 1 at home and erased what was left of it by mailing in too many of their defensive possessions on Sunday. The pressure builds with those developments, while the Thunder find themselves one step closer to completing an improbable, giant-killing run through the Western Conference.