Losing the series opener was one thing, but falling behind by more than 40 points in Game 3 was another. The Golden State Warriors are in danger of having their historic season end before the NBA Finals, and they’ve found themselves in a virtual “must-win” situation in Game 4 against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.
After tying up the series in Game 2 behind an outstanding shooting performance by Stephen Curry, the Warriors were embarrassed in Game 3 in what almost amounted to a complete meltdown by the entire team. Needless to say, the Warriors will have to do a lot differently in order to tie up the series and take Game 4.
Curry scored 24 points on a respectable 17 shot attempts in Game 3, but that won’t be good enough to beat Oklahoma City if Klay Thompson and Draymond Green continue to struggle. Thompson averaged 27.2 points on 19.4 shots per game in the first two rounds, but he’s scoring just 19.3 points on more than 20 attempts in the Western Conference finals. Green is shooting 36.8 percent from the field with 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists, and his flagrant foul against Steven Adams seemed to ignite the Thunder’s second-half run that essentially ended Game 3.
But it wasn’t just a bad game for Thompson or the 1-9 shooting performance by Green, who won't be suspended for his actions on Sunday. It was a perfect storm of mistakes for Golden State that led to their Game 3 drubbing—one that won’t be repeated in Game 4.
Oklahoma City was unstoppable in transition, even having their way with Golden State’s “death lineup,” which gave the Warriors a significant advantage in the previous two games. Andre Roberson converted 3-5 three-point attempts and scored 13 points, but he’s averaged just 3.8 points on 14.3 percent shooting from behind the arc this postseason.
Sunday was an anomaly, but the Warriors’ Game 1 loss proves that the team has real concerns against the Thunder. When Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are playing well, they are very tough to beat. Durant has been feeling it from the field over the last two games, and no player in the league can match Westbrook’s motor, which allowed him to come within two rebounds of a triple-double in Game 3.
Defensively, the Thunder have found a way to slow down the Warriors. Golden State’s big men haven’t been able to get much going, and Adams and Ibaka have helped Oklahoma City get the advantage in the frontcourt.
For the most part, Oklahoma City has been able to limit Curry’s effectiveness. He shot well in Game 1, but didn’t do much in the fourth quarter, and Sunday’s game wasn’t close long enough for Curry to have much of an impact. But when he got going in Game 2, the Warriors ran away with the lead, and Game 4 could produce a similar result.
Curry was named the NBA’s first ever unanimous MVP because he was so good at times that it didn’t matter what opposing defenses did. That’s what happened in Game 2 when Curry scored 15 points in less than two minutes, and it’s bound to happen again.
Offense wasn’t the Warriors’ main problem in Game 3, but the team missed plenty of open looks that led to easy transition buckets. Golden State is too good to miss those shots for long, and improving their shooting percentage will also limit Oklahoma City’s scoring chances.
A suspension of Green would have given Oklahoma City the edge on Tuesday, but Golden State has the advantage now that they'll be at full strength. Trailing in the series 2-1, the Warriors are still favored to reach the NBA Finals. They are slight road favorites in Game 4, via VegasInsider. The Thunder are 1.5-point underdogs and the over/under is 222.1 points.
Golden State hasn’t faced that much adversity this season, but they have answered the bell every time their greatness has been called into question.
In the regular season, it was handing the Spurs their only home loss and clinching the league’s best record after they had lost in San Antonio less than a month earlier. In the playoffs, it was surviving two separate Curry injuries in the first round and needing just 10 games to get the eight wins required to reach the conference finals.
The Warriors still haven’t lost two straight games all year, and they’ve got a good chance to keep it that way on Tuesday.
Prediction: Golden State over Oklahoma City, 114-108