( 4UMF NEWS ) Thunder Push Warriors To Brink Of Elimination:
High above the Chesapeake Arena floor where the Oklahoma City Thunder have been making so much basketball magic of late, there’s a banner hanging from the rafters amid the darkness that has a lonely look to it.
It may have company soon.
After a season in which the Thunder were always in the shadows, this much has officially come to light now that they’re up 3-1 over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals: They’re coming together in the kind of wild and wonderful way that could most certainly lead to a title. This 118-94 whooping in Game 4 on Tuesday did more than just give them a 3-1 series edge.
It continued a pattern of play so impressive – seven wins in nine games against the San Antonio Spurs and Warriors teams that stole the headlines all season – that it’s impossible not to believe in their overwhelming brand of basketball. For the first time since Games 2 and 3 of the 2015 Finals, the Warriors lost consecutive games because the Thunder’s stars meshed so seamlessly with their reserves.
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook had 36 points (12 of 27 shooting), 11 assists and 11 rebounds, logging his first triple-double of this postseason. His three-pointer with 3:15 left unofficially ended it, putting the Thunder up 114-91 while he high-fived fans who lived up to their “Loud City” name. Kevin Durant had 26 points and 11 rebounds, his relentless defense setting the toughest of tones.
The Warriors, who couldn’t survive a miserable shooting night from back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry (six of 20), now face a daunting bit of history heading into Game 5 on Thursday. Of the 232 teams that have trailed 3-1 in a seven-game playoff series, only nine came back to win the series (three of 53 in conference finals and division finals). They shot just 41.3% overall, and no one struggled more than Warriors forward Draymond Green.
Having feared a suspension after his Game 3 crotch kick of Thunder big man Steven Adams, Green finished with six points (one of seven shooting), two assists and 11 rebounds in 38 minutes while committing six turnovers. His minus-30 rating was the worst among Warriors starters and second-worst behind 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala (minus 32).
By the time halftime arrived and the scoreboard looked broken yet again – Thunder 72, Warriors 53, this after their 72-47 lead at the break in Game 3 – it was quite clear that the Thunder had the kind of winning formula that could fracture the Warriors. With those long arms of Westbrook, Durant and forward Serge Ibaka omnipresent on the perimeter, they had Curry skittering for open space and missing 10 of his first 11 shots. The Thunder, with coach Billy Donovan so often playing their enormous version of a small-ball lineup with Durant and Serge Ibaka in the frontcourt, forced 13 turnovers that led to 13 points. The Thunder also won the rebounding battle 56-40.
The Warriors, who had the fourth-best defense in the league during the regular season, simply couldn’t stop a Thunder trio that went retro at the right time. Durant (18 points) and Westbrook (21) scoring big was no new revelation, but Ibaka – who had averaged 11.2 points in the 14 playoff games coming in – added 15 points before the break. They finished the half on a 28-13 run, all while becoming the first team to score at least 72 points in a half during a playoff game since 1987 (the Lakers did it against the Denver Nuggets on April 23 and April 25).