USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick breaks down Oklahoma City’s win in Game 3. USA TODAY Sports
OKLAHOMA CITY – Steph Curry was used to sitting in fourth quarters, but not like this.
In these past two seasons in which his Golden State Warriors had taken over the NBA, the sight of the MVP resting in the final period after three quarters of sheer dominance was as familiar as a Curry three or a Draymond Green arm flex. Yet as the final period at Chesapeake Arena began on Sunday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder well on their way to a stunning 133-105 win in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals that gave them a 2-1 series edge, Curry and the rest of the Warriors starters were benched by coach Steve Kerr out of sheer mercy.
The back-to-back MVP wore a “Strength in Numbers” towel over his head, although their motto suddenly seemed more fitting for these relentless Thunder. Assistant coach Jarron Collins studied the surreal box score on his left, while Green sat with arms and legs outstretched on his right.
Talk about a shot to the groin.
In a game in which Green’s below-the-belt kick of Thunder big man Steven Adams in the second quarter seemed to spark Kevin Durant & Co., the Warriors were whooped in a way they’ve never known in this modern era.
The right leg kick to Adam’s groin midway through the second quarter was deemed a Flagrant One foul, but there’s a chance the league office could upgrade it to a Flagrant Two and, perhaps, levy a suspension. After Green was fouled by Adams on his way up in the paint – the Thunder leading 48-42 at the time – he landed a soccer-style kick into Adam’s nether regions that left him on his knees in pain for a matter of minutes afterward.
As the officials reviewed the play, the crowd chanted “Kick him out, kick him out” while Green pleaded his case with referee Tony Brothers. Considering the way the Thunder responded, and the way Green played from that point on, it may have been a blessing in disguise for Oklahoma City that he was allowed to remain. They finished the quarter on a 24-5 run.
“I thought it would probably get rescinded (the Flagrant One call). It was a follow through on a shot,” Green said. “I’m not trying to kick somebody … in the midsection. I’m sure he would want to have kids some day and I’m not trying to end that on the basketball court. That don’t make sense.”
While the Warriors have overcome 2-1 series deficits twice – against Memphis in the second round in 2015, and again against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals – Golden State’s worst playoff loss since the start of their championship run was by 13 points against the Houston Rockets on May 25, 2015. The Warriors trailed by as many as 41 points, marking the largest deficit (regular season and playoffs) since an April 9, 2012 loss at the Denver Nuggets.
Durant, the 2014-15 MVP whose Thunder missed out on the playoff party a year ago because of his recurring foot problems, played like, well, the real MVP to a 33-point, eight-rebound performance (on 10 of 15 shooting overall, 12 of 12 from the free throw line). Russell Westbrook was right there with him, finishing with 30 points (10 of 19 shooting), 12 assists and eight rebounds. The Thunder’s oversized lineup dominated on the glass yet again as well (52-38).
“Kevin is a great player and is a student of the game and he’s always trying to evolve and get better,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I give him credit for how he responded and passed the ball and the decisions and things he did. He was real efficient tonight.”
The Warriors, who seemed to seize control of the series with their 118-91 win in Game 2 at Oracle Arena on Wednesday, shot just 41.3% overall. Only Curry (24 points) and Klay Thompson (18 points) scored in double figures.
The Thunder, who led 72-47 at the break, picked the perfect time to play what may have been the best half in their eight-year history. They held the Warriors to 34.5% shooting, including a 2-of-23 stretch in the final 8:37 of play. They played fast and furious, tallying 22 fastbreak points (to the Warriors’ five) while Durant (23 points, six rebounds) and Westbrook (16 points, seven assists) led the way.
Even before Green added fuel to the fire with his kick, the Thunder were playing like the hungrier team. They led 25-13 seven minutes in, with Durant (11 first quarter points) leading the up-tempo charge and the Warriors out of sync from the start. But the Warriors closed the quarter on a 15-9 run, entering the second quarter down 34-28.
Featured photo by Sam Bird/Youtube
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