It seemed almost unthinkable when the postseason started, but the Golden State Warriors face "a must-win situation" before meeting the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Claiming a record 73 victories during the regular season and largely breezing through the first two rounds of the postseason despite MVP Stephen Curry’s injured knee, the Warriors season and legacy may very well hinge on whether or not they can avoid a 3-1 series hole to a Thunder squad that’s only gotten stronger with each passing game.
Oklahoma City took a 2-1 series lead by utterly dismantling the Warriors in Game 3’s 133-105 victory, with Kevin Durant pouring in 33 points and Russell Westbrook filling the scorer’s sheet with 30 points, eight rebounds, and 12 assists.
The Thunder led by as much as 41 points and held a massive 52-38 rebounding advantage, while limiting Golden State to 30.3 percent from behind the three-point line.
Head coach Billy Donovan’s squad has also enjoyed solid reserve play from Dion Waiters. The fifth-year shooting guard added 13 points in Game 3, and every time he’s scored in double-digits the Thunder have claimed a postseason victory.
Still, Oklahoma City will have to hand Golden State a second straight loss for the first time this season, and the Warriors will require much more from Curry’s running mates. Curry still managed to net 24 points with five rebounds and three assists, while Klay Thompson and Draymond Green equaled his total scoring output on 9-for-28 shooting and committed seven combined turnovers.
Green, and the Warriors overall, are lucky he’s even allowed to play in Game 4. The power forward was whistled for a flagrant one foul after he kicked Thunder big man Steven Adams in the groin while trying to draw a foul in Game 3. Green insisted the play wasn’t intentional, however the NBA announced Monday night that the foul would be upgraded to a flagrant two, and another flagrant by Green will trigger an automatic suspension.
“I didn’t watch ESPN, but I saw it on my phone,” Green told reporters Monday. “Like I said, I can see how someone thinks it was intentional. But yet nobody can go in my head and say, ‘Draymond was thinking about kicking him, and he kicked him.’
“You watch my reaction: I walked back to the three-point line, clapped everybody’s hand and looked at (Adams) like, ‘Why is this dude on the floor?’ All the camera angles out there, they could see that, too.
“So people are going to judge what they want to judge. But I know I didn’t do it on purpose. Like I said last night, I thought it was going to be rescinded, not be facing a (possible) suspension.”
The Warriors were favored by 1.5 points on Monday, and the spread has moved a half point in their favor by Tuesday to 2.0 points.
Prediction: Curry will come out firing, and Green will do a better job of preventing Oklahoma City from scoring easy points in the paint. It's important for Steve Kerr's squad to improve their transition defense, and will happen if the Warriors take smarter shots to deny fast-break points. But Durant should keep the Thunder competitive with his perimeter game, and Serge Ibaka will continue to provide an important defensive presence.
Oklahoma City should have less success on the glass in Game 4, which means the Warriors can get enough second-chance points to secure a victory.
Predicted Score: Golden State over Oklahoma City, 114-108
Start Time: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: TNT
Live Stream: TNT Overtime
Betting odds: Golden State -2 points
Over/Under: 222 points