OKLAHOMA CITY — The Golden State Warriors suffered a 133-105 beating on Sunday night, looking flat before getting flattened. The Oklahoma City Thunder blasted the Warriors in transition on their way to a massive victory and a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.
Golden State usually has a formidable defensive setup against Oklahoma’s starting lineup. Stephen Curry chases Russell Westbrook as Andrew Bogut sags off Andre Roberson, a shooting guard whose shooting is rarely honored by Golden State. Klay Thompson guards Serge Ibaka, sagging far off a big man whose shot is to be contested more than feared. Draymond Green drops far off Steven Adams, a big man who doesn’t really attempt jumpers. It’s a look that cedes little space for Oklahoma City drives. And it’s a look that, like many Golden State plans on Sunday night, was quickly scattered to the winds.
The Warriors had to ditch their setup after Curry picked up an early foul due to his biting on a Westbrook pump fake. He was placed on Roberson duty, shifting the shape of the defense. From there, the Thunder were off to the races, leaping out to a 13-point lead 4:33 into the game. After that initial surge from Oklahoma City, Golden State battled back, executing decently for a spell. The final score belies that this one was actually tied with 8:37 remaining in the second quarter.
What followed was absolute carnage, a complete Warriors unraveling as the Thunder relentlessly and repeatedly destroyed Golden State in transition. The second quarter offered a comedy of errors. It had Anderson Varejao — whose run at center did not go well — bizarrely fouling Westbrook approximately 90 feet from Oklahoma City’s basket. It had the Warriors’ big three going a combined 10-of-30, squandering quite a few open looks. It had Green drawing Golden State’s first shooting foul of the evening, only to counteract that progress with a leg kick that knocked Adams in a sensitive area — the rare drawn shooting foul combined with an incurred flagrant foul 1.
In times of trouble, Golden State usually can rely on their small-ball “Death Lineup” to save them, or at least give them a fighting chance. Down 13 points with a little over three minutes remaining in the half, the Curry-Thompson-Andre Iguodala–Harrison Barnes-Green unit took the floor — and was promptly run off the court. In that three-minute span, Oklahoma City pushed the lead to 25, looking wholly comfortable running at a pace beyond brisk. The Thunder’s Kevin Durant (33 points, 15 shots, one turnover) is a decent “small-ball” option as a 7-foot wing.
The third quarter wasn’t much better, as the Thunder continued their march to a 41-point lead as Westbrook and, yes, even Roberson found a rhythm.
There are few silver linings here for the Warriors, beyond that this only counts as one game. It’s difficult to just blame one person or thing. Curry, Thompson and Green each were a different variation of bad. Bogut was less than forceful in the paint. Coach Steve Kerr likely shouldn’t have gone to Varejao. The team in general opened up its transition defense to assault by foolishly chasing offensive rebounds.
In the garbage-time fourth quarter, Kerr and Curry were seen laughing. They’d had some time to absorb a loss that had been certain long before it was technically in the books. Perhaps the Warriors aren’t quite worried yet, having been down 2-1 in the playoffs before. They’ve just never been down to a team quite this talented, seasoned and adept at playing Golden State’s preferred pace. If this isn’t the Warriors’ Waterloo, it’s likely their ultimate test.