Russell Westbrook Outduels Kevin Durant as Thunder Beat Reeling Warriors

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistNovember 22, 2018

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 21: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball during the game against the Golden State Warriors on November 21, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Golden State Warriors' struggles continued on Wednesday night with a 123-95 loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Oracle Arena. 

This marks the first time since March 2013 that Golden State has lost at least four straight games. This will also add to the speculation about turmoil inside the locker room stemming from the altercation between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green that took place during an overtime loss against the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 12. 

Durant did his best to keep the Warriors close and challenge former teammate Russell Westbrook. The two-time NBA Finals MVP scored 27 points and grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds. Westbrook finished with a triple-double of 11 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists. 

Paul George, Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder each scored over 20 points. Schroder had his best game in an Oklahoma City uniform with 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting off the bench. 

Elite Defense Will Carry Thunder Into Playoffs

The Thunder have taken up the throne occupied by the Utah Jazz at the end of last season. They are a team playing elite-level defense with a limited offensive style that is doing enough to get by, even on an off night like they had against the Warriors.  

Thunderous Intentions @thunderousint

OKC defense is for real Thunder Nation - desperate GSW squad score fewest points of 1Q this season. Very chippy, aggressive (sloppy) 1Q with TFerg out (ankle by looks of it) Russ fell awkwardly on shoulder & several players hitting the hardwood hard! #ThunderUp

After holding the Warriors to a season-low 18 points in the first quarter, the Thunder did even better in the fourth quarter by allowing just 16 points. 

Coming into Wednesday's game, Oklahoma City ranked fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency (104.5 points per 100 possessions) and sixth in points allowed per game (106.2).  

OKC THUNDER @okcthunder

Thunder defense stands tall. @NerlensNoel3 #ThunderUp https://t.co/baFAGhULWG

Conventional wisdom suggested the Thunder wouldn't be as good on defense early in the season with Andre Roberson still recovering from left knee surgery. 

Per NBA.com's John Schuhmann, the 11.2-point difference with Roberson on the floor last season versus without him was the biggest in the NBA out of 266 qualified players. 

Golden State finished the game shooting 43.4 percent from the field, including 7-of-29 from three-point range. 

That continues the Thunder's trend of not giving opponents easy looks from behind the arc. Per NBA.com (h/t SB Nation's Bobby Chancellor), they are only allowing other teams to get five uncontested three-pointers per game. 

Despite having prominent offensive talent like George and Westbrook, the Thunder aren't a dynamic offense. That duo combined to shoot 15-of-38 against Golden State. The entire offense was successful due in large part to second-chance points created by 18 offensive rebounds. 

George's 41.3 percent shooting coming into Wednesday is his worst mark since 2014-15 when he only played six games late in the season after suffering a compound fracture in his right leg during a Team USA scrimmage in August 2014. 

Westbrook, who only made five of his 15 attempts from the field against Golden State, is shooting a career-low 20.0 percent from three-point range. 

Unless the Thunder make a move to add a prominent shooter to the mix, defense has to be their driving force if they want to have a deep playoff run.  


Struggling Warriors Don't Need to Panic Yet

Conventional wisdom would suggest the Warriors are falling apart after losing five of their past six games since the Durant-Green blowup on the sidelines. Their offense has been held under 100 points three times in the past four games. 

Klay Thompson tried to deflect attention from Golden State's losing streak after Sunday's 104-92 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, via ESPN.com's Nick Friedell:

"It was a terrible road trip as far as wins and losses. But we're obviously short-handed. I'm proud of the way the guys fought. Besides the Houston game, I feel like either game could have gone either way; unfortunately, it didn't. It's been a challenging week on all fronts. The best thing for us is just to get away a little bit [Monday], regroup, take it back home and just have fun, play with that joy."

The key point from Thompson's statement is the Warriors are playing short-handed right now. They haven't had Stephen Curry since he injured his groin against the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 8.

Head coach Steve Kerr told reporters Curry won't return until Monday's game against the Orlando Magic, at the earliest. 

No one will deny Durant's ability, but there is ample evidence provided from NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh to suggest Curry is Golden State's most important player:

Tom Haberstroh @tomhaberstroh

With or Without you Steph lineups | KD lineups | Klay lineups | Draymond lineups Steph w/ a lot of green ... https://t.co/5HqUPUJaTO https://t.co/q5hYLmMnAi

Golden State also played against the Thunder without Green due to a toe injury. 

Even though the Warriors' four-year run of dominance has looked easy, this year's team doesn't have the depth due to cap constraints.

The departure of JaVale McGee and retirement of David West left the team without a true center, which helps explain why Oklahoma City was so successful on the offensive glass. That position will change when DeMarcus Cousins returns from a torn Achilles, but that doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon. 

Because of all those injuries, there are no definitive statements to make about the Warriors at this moment. They looked like the defending back-to-back champions and best team in the NBA as recently as two weeks ago when everyone was healthy. 

Four straight losses certainly looks bad, especially in light of the Durant-Green drama, but the Warriors will still be favored to win a third straight title by the time the playoffs roll around if Curry, Green and Cousins are in the lineup.  


What's Next? 

The Thunder head back to Oklahoma City to kick off a four-game homestand, starting with the Charlotte Hornets on Friday at 8 p.m. ET. The Warriors host the Portland Trail Blazers in a marquee Western Conference matchup on Friday at 10:30 p.m. ET.