The Oklahoma City Thunder don't care.
After their 118-94 win Tuesday gave them a commanding 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the Thunder are turning the page on that two-season narrative. Extend the metaphor and call it a new chapter if you like. Or maybe term it a paradigm shift.
Whatever the label, OKC's top-down, back-and-forth, inside-out throttling of Golden State over the last two contests is an axis-tilter.
Oklahoma City started Game 4 somewhat languidly before dialing up what has become a predictable adrenaline-charged blitz. Forcing the Warriors into awkward shots with length and phenomenal rim protection, the Thunder turned misses and mistakes into aggressive runouts. This is roughly how Game 3 unfolded, but there was something even more decisive about OKC's initial first-quarter burst in this one.
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That surge was a microcosm of the contest: Golden State mucking around on its heels, missing good shots and forcing bad ones, turning the ball over...and on and on and on.
When something like this happens to a team with the Warriors' pedigree, there's an inclination to blame them without crediting the opponent. And it's easy to cite Stephen Curry's six turnovers and 6-of-20 shooting. That's unusual, and it's probably fair (and, again, easy) to wonder if the knee and ankle injuries of this postseason are conspiring with the fatigue of chasing 73 wins to sap his speed and touch.
It's also fair and easy to ask Curry not to simply throw the ball away. His six turnovers, tied with Draymond Green for the team high, destroyed the Warriors and exasperated head coach Steve Kerr, per Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman:
Golden State committed 21 giveaways against just 15 assists.
Curry was awful, but the Thunder's shot-altering length at the rim and brutally physical off-ball defense deserve credit.
Green was even less effective.
After escaping a suspension for his low blow on Thunder center Steven Adams in Game 3, Green endured the worst two-game stretch of his career, per Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:
Westbrook and Durant suffered no such struggles. The former remained integral to the feverish pace-pushing that has buried Golden State, running up 36 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in 41 minutes. Durant contributed 26 points and played some of the best sustained defense of his career, tallying three of the Thunder's eight blocks.
KD's defensive intensity drew praise from ESPN.com's Zach Lowe:
Klay Thompson posted 19 points in the third quarter, cutting into a 72-53 Thunder halftime lead and giving Golden State its only glimmer of hope. But OKC was too good defensively, too dominant on the boards (56-40 overall), too relentless in attacking the rim and flat-out just too good.
In a way, this provides an opportunity to praise both teams.
What the Thunder are doing—forcing the Warriors to face elimination for the first time and handing them their first back-to-back losses of the season—is remarkable precisely because they're doing it to Golden State. Beating the 67-win San Antonio Spurs soundly was impressive, but this...this is a destruction of hierarchy like we've never seen.
If anyone can re-establish order, if anyone can escape the death grip of a 3-1 hole—just nine of the previous 232 NBA teams in that position went on to win the series, per USA Today's Sam Amick—it's the Warriors. They've done plenty of unlikely and unprecedented things over the past two years.
However, there's little reason to believe the Warriors that exist now are the same Warriors we saw run up those 73 wins. Curry, too, looks different.
The best regular season in league history meant something. Curry winning the MVP unanimously meant something. But now we're dealing in tenses, and the Warriors' greatest achievements are in the past—much like their dominant performance levels.
Forget meant; let's talk about what these last two games mean.
They mean the Thunder are the best team in the world right now. They mean the Warriors are in completely uncharted territory. They mean we need to adjust our expectations accordingly.
It'll be difficult for the Thunder to wrap this series up in Oakland, but just a few days ago, amassing a 3-1 series lead also seemed impossible.
Unmoved by Golden State's past success and unmerciful in the presence of its current vulnerability, the Thunder are on the verge of making the impossible look easy.
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