The Western Conference finals shift to Oklahoma City for an ever important Game 3 on Sunday night. The Golden State Warriors have a chance to reclaim home-court advantage by stealing a win on the road, while the Oklahoma City Thunder can come within two games of upsetting the best regular-season team in NBA history.
The Warriors and Thunder split the first two games of the series at Oracle Arena, where Golden State had been 45-3 after the conclusion of the second round. Oklahoma City came back from a 14-point deficit to win Game 1, but Golden State looked every bit like the team that went 73-9 in Game 2. The biggest difference was Stephen Curry, and if he performs like he did on Wednesday, the Thunder are going to fall behind in the series.
When Curry is playing like he did in Game 2, there’s nothing the opposition can do to stop him. It’s that very reason why he became the first ever unanimous MVP selection, winning the award after having perhaps the greatest offensive season in NBA history. Curry scored 28 points on just 15 field-goal attempts, eventually ensuring a Golden State victory when he scored 15 points in a less-than-two-minute span in the third quarter.
Klay Thompson had a second straight poor shooting performance, and Kevin Durant couldn’t be stopped in the first half. Curry knew he had to step up, and he’s ready to do it again in Oklahoma City.
"Obviously, it's a team game," Curry said on Wednesday. "But leaders have to be at their best on the road."
Curry has admitted that his knee injury isn't completely healed, and it looked like it might have affected him in the series opener. But he was back to his old self just two days later, and Oklahoma City is hoping that won’t be the case for a second straight game.
Whether it was Curry’s injury that slowed him down in Game 1 is debatable. Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City defense did a good job of being physical with him and forcing others to launch jump shots. Westbrook wasn’t nearly as effective in Game 2 on either side of the ball.
After putting up 27 points, 12 assists, six rebounds and seven steals in Game 1, Westbrook scored just 16 points on 14 shots in Game 2, registering two steals and one rebound. The Thunder weren’t able to take advantage of Durant’s hot shooting night as the forward scored 29 points, three more than he scored in Game 1 while taking 12 fewer shots.
Oklahoma City didn’t play particularly well in Game 1, and they are still waiting for Durant and Westbrook to put up big numbers on the same night. The Thunder are 5-0 this postseason when both stars shoot at least 44 percent from the field.
In the regular season, the Warriors played at a level above the Thunder. But Oklahoma City is coming together at the right time, with their frontcourt complementing their two stars. Even after Wednesday’s blowout, it’s pretty clear that this won’t be a short series.
“If you compare ourselves to the beginning of the season, or two or three months ago, we’re different,” Enes Kanter told USA TODAY Sports after Game 1. “(And) I think all this 73 games, all this (with) the records and whatever (the Warriors) have, I think in playoffs it doesn’t really mean anything.”
But if the Warriors are playing near their potential, like they were in Game 2, the Thunder won’t be able to prevent them from winning a second straight championship. Despite how good Oklahoma City has been this postseason, they are 2.5-point home underdogs in Game 3, via VegasInsider. The over/under is 220 points.
The two teams will have three days off until Game 3, which should benefit the banged-up Curry. The point guard’s latest ailment is a swollen elbow, which he suffered when diving into the stands for a loose ball. Curry will monitor the elbow, though he doesn’t expect it to be a problem.
"Elbow's fine. It looks like it has a tennis ball on top of it, but it doesn't affect range of motion or anything," Curry said. "It's just some pain, so I'll be all right."
Prediction: Golden State over Oklahoma City, 115-111