Rough end to drama-filled season

By Michael Kinney

For three straight games Oklahoma City had it in their hands. Needing only one victory to wrap up a second appearance in the NBA finals, all they had to do was find a way to close the deal one more time.

But after losing two straight games, it all came to a head Monday night in a climatic Game 7. With the winner moving on and the loser going home, the Thundercame up on the short end of a painful stick with a 96-88 defeat at the Oracle Arena in Oakland.

“We fought. Everybody fought hard every single minute they were on the court,” Kevin Durant said. “It sucks to lose. It sucks, but it was tough. It was a tough series.”

It will now be eight straight seasons Durant and Russell Westbrook have gone ringless since arriving in Oklahoma City. In that time they have watched LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson all hoist up the gold ball while they could only watch from home.

What makes this year even tougher is that Oklahoma City held a 3-1 lead in the series and were fully healthy. There are no excuses the franchise can use for being knocked out except their inability to make the right plays in the fourth quarter of games or find an answer to the Warriors long distance shooting.

“You know, it hurts losing. It hurts losing, especially being up 3 games to 1,” Kevin Durant said. “But Games 3 and 4, they missed the shots that they hit Games 6 and 7, and that was our plan. They beat us in the three-point line the last two games. We beat them everywhere else, they beat us from the three-point line, and that was the series.”

The 3-point shooting Durant focused on was overwhelming in Game 7. While the Thunder made 7 of 27, the Warriors connected on an astonishing 17 of 37. That’s 30 more points from behind the arc, a tough number to overcome.

But Oklahoma City had discovered the formula and were in command before its three-game collapse.

“We knew it was going to be a dogfight, and for us to overcome that early deficit and claw our way back and the way that we did it with everybody having an impact, bench guys, starters, on the defensive end, obviously we made shots,” Curry said. “It was just a very cool moment to enjoy that fan noise and understand we were on the brink of doing something very special and coming back from down 3-1, and that was it.”

Now an offseason of uncertainty is about to begin for Oklahoma City. A decision keeping the team intact or not will have to be made by General Manager Sam Presti. But both Durant and Westbrook liked the growth of players such as Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters.

“Those guys, man, they put in work every single day,” Westbrook said. Coming in early, staying here late, watching film, improving their games throughout the season, and you can’t do nothing but be proud of those guys. Look forward to them coming back next year and being better.”

But obviously the most important one is Durant. He will be the biggest prize in the free agent pool this summer, with every team looking to lure him away from Oklahoma City.

It didn’t take long after Game 7 ended for questions about Durant’s future to begin.

“I mean, we just lost like 30 minutes ago, so I haven’t even thought about it,” Durant said. “I’m just embracing my teammates and just reflecting on the season. I’ll think about that stuff, I don’t know when. But we just lost an hour ago, 30 minutes ago, so I don’t know.”

When the postseason began, no one outside the Thunder locker room or most avid fan thought the team would even make it to a Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. So in many regards, it was a heck of a season.

But in the aftermath of being eliminated, remembering where they started and what they went through is sometimes hard to do.

“There are no moral victories in our locker room after the game. We’re all upset,” Durant said. “We wanted to get a chance to play for a championship in The Finals, so that hurts. But when you sit down and look back at what happened throughout the season, you can be proud of not just the players, but everybody in the organization from the top to the bottom. I’m just proud of what all we’ve been through this season. We stuck together and we sacrificed for each other. That’s just what makes this game so special.”

The stars come out in Game 7s

Kevin Durant throws down a dunk in Game 6 against Golden State. (Photo by Torrey Purvey).

By Michael Kinney

Game 7s are nothing new to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Since 2011 they have played in two of them and won both.

However, the one the Thunder face tonight is much different than any situation they have taken on before. Not only is a trip to the NBA Finals on the line, but they are encountering the reigning NBA champs and two-time MVP on the road.

There is nothing about the scenario that works in the favor of Oklahoma City. All the odds are against the visiting team, but Kevin Durant seems to relish the moment to overcome those adversities.

This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity,” Durant said. “We’ve got to take advantage of it. Go up into their building, and it’s going to be great atmosphere. We’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

Oklahoma City finds itself in this crucial Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals after blowing a 3-1 series lead. That includes a fourth quarter meltdown in Game 6 Saturday at home in which Durant posted just four points and two costly turnovers.

Yet, despite all of that, the Thunder insist they are coming into the biggest game of the season confident.

We’ve been tested all season. We’ve been tested since I’ve been here,” Durant said. “We never let anything linger over or bleed over into the next day. That’s the motto we always have, even in a regular season. We lose a game, we move on. We win a game, we move on. The playoffs is no different. It’s on a bigger scale because you play the same team over and over. But we’ve got to move on and get ready for the next one.”

The Warriors have every right to be just as confident, if not more. They have staved off elimination in back to back games and have been nearly unbeatable at home.

However, according to Golden State coach Steve Kerr, the best trait his team has going for them in a game like this is toughness.

“I’ve learned that our players are tough. They’re mentally tough,” Kerr said. “I don’t know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they’ve firmly confirmed that. It’s been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game.”

What the Warriors also have are players who have proven they can come up big in the biggest moments. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have each carried the team with deadly 3-point shooting and scoring barrages when the Golden State needed them the most.

If not for Thompson’s 11 three-pointers in Game 6, this series is over and the Thunder are preparing for Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

“Steph and Klay are as good as anybody I’ve ever seen in terms of just moving forward and taking the next shot, making the next play,” Kerr said. “Not worrying about a miss or even several misses. That’s the right mentality. It’s a difficult mentality to achieve for a lot of people, but not for them. They have so much belief.”

That is something the Thunder haven’t proven totally, yet. They were able to comeback from a blowout loss to San Antonio in Game 1 of the semifinals and another thrashing to the Warriors in Game 2 of this series.

But this is the first time their actual season is on the line. It’s a chance for Durant and Russell Westbrook to prove they are in the class Curry and Thompson as far as big game performers. That they can carry a team when everything is stacked against them.

It’s the type of game all the greats of the NBA have had to cross off their check list on their way to all-time status. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, etc. Durant wants that moment.

“I think it’s okay to want it so much. I think sometimes you want to calm down a bit because you want something so bad,” Durant said. “It’s difficult to really talk about because it’s something that I’ve been feeling. It’s like you’ve been dreaming about this moment since you were a kid. You’ve been wanting this moment since you were a kid. That’s all that’s been talked about is playing in the big games in the playoffs.

“I think that it’s okay to want it so bad,” he continued. “But at the same time, I’ve just got to relax a bit.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at Eyeamtruth@gmail.com

Sun hasn’t set on Golden State just yet

Golden State’s Steph Curry sizes up Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook during Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. (Photo by Torry Purvey).

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Steph Curry is the reigning 2-time MVP and often described as a transformative player who has changed the way basketball is played in the NBA. However, when Golden State is at their best, it’s usually when the other Splash Brother is on his game.

Luckily for the Warriors, Klay Thompson was just that when they took on Oklahoma City in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. Thomson scored a game-high 41 points to lead the Warriors to a 108-101 victory Saturday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena to hold off elimination of the defending champions.

“It was about time we had a stretch in the building in which we impose our will,” Thompson said. “I’m so proud of everybody. We were down almost the whole game and we never gave up. Our resiliency paid off in the end. We knew if we didn’t get it done we were going home. So it was a big win.”

Thompson hit 11 of 18 from 3-point range to set a new NBA playoff record. Steph Curry scored 29 to go along with 10 rebounds and nine assists. Draymond Green scored 14 points, grabbed 12 boards and had three steals.

Kevin Durant scored led the Thunder with 29 points on 10 of 31 shooting. Russell Westbrook posted 28 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. Serge Ibaka added 13 points and nine rebounds.

For the second consecutive game, Durant scored a lot of points, but was far from efficient.

“I just didn’t feel like at times collectively as a group, just with the execution part of it, that we helped

him from screening angles and things like that,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Sometimes I think for Kevin, with as much as he gets– I’m not using this as an excuse – but grabbed and held… sometimes putting your head down and driving and creating is almost like the next best thing.”

The series is tied at 3-3 with Game 7 taking place Monday in Oakland, Calif.

Westbrook put the Thunder up 93-87 with 6:22 left in the fourth quarter. After the Thunder forced a stop, Steven Adams made 1 of 2 from the free-throw line.

Thompson drove the lane for a layup to slice lead to 94-89. But Durant responded with a jumper.

Thompson drained his 10th 3-pointer of the night. After Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson made 1 of 2 from the line, the Thunder led 97-92 with 4:32 left.

Curry with a 3-pointer brought the Warriors to within 1 at 97-96. But Westbrook went to the free throw line and buried a pair to push lead back to three with 3:42 on the clock.

Durant was forced into a turnover and it led to Curry’s game-tying 3-pointer making the score 99-all. Roberson and Andre Iguodala traded baskets before Thompson banged in another 3-pointer to put the Warriors ahead 104-101.

Thompson missed a 3-point attempt and Durant got the rebound. But he turned the ball over and Curry made the Thunder pay with a layup to put the game away.

When it was all said and done, Curry ran around the court holding up seven fingers to signify the upcoming Game 7.

“It’s going to be fun,” Curry said. “I know I said this game was probably the hardest of our lives, but now that we’ve got this under our belt, we can’t just assume because we’re going home and it’s Game 7, that we can show up. We have to bring that same energy, same focus, activity that we had tonight. Take care of business at home.”

The Thunder made 22 of 32 from the foul line while the Warriors hit 21 of 44 from behind the arc.

“We’ve got another game to play,” Durant said. “We’re excited about that. We get another opportunity. And we can’t hang our heads. We’ve got another game to play, so it’s pretty high right now.”

Green showed early on that he was out of the funk that had plagued him the first four games of the series. He tallied six points, four rebounds and two assists in the first quarter alone.

But that didn’t seem to affect the Thunder. Even with Durant shooting a low percentage, they were able to go ahead by 13 in the second quarter.

Much of that was built on the play of the Oklahoma City big men.

Enes Kanter came off the bench to produce offensive while Adams was effective on both ends. That included throwing down a dunk over Green that had the Thunder bench falling over themselves celebrating.

If not for Thompson, the Warriors could have found them in trouble. He shot 4 of 8 from 3-point range as Golden State only tailed 53-48.

“I ain’t start off the game right and I knew we’re not going to go far if I’m not being aggressive and open up the floor for everybody,” Thompson said. “So I just used my teammates, being patient, never letting my confidence waver. Because I’m ineffective when I’m not out there hitting my shot.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at Eyeamtruth@gmail.com

 

Time for the Thunder to make a stand

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s been four years since the Oklahoma City Thunder have had a chance to close out a series to get the NBA Finals, so they may have forgotten just how tough it is. It may have slipped their mind just how much.

If so, Game 5’s 120-111 loss Wednesday was a reminder. The Thunder played hard, but not hard enough to knock off the defending champion on the road in a hostile environment.

“We’re playing against a terrific team and we have great respect for them,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “This series has made us better. It’s helped us improve. It’s helped us grow and get better. We’re in a series right now, and it’s on to the next game. We’ll have to go back and regroup, and really prepare as well as we can (Saturday) at shootaround and try to get ready to play again.”

Before Game 5 even tipped off, Warriors coach Steve Kerr told everyone the frame of mind his team was going to be in the rest of the series.

“They are determined, and they want what we have,” Kerr said. “We have a banner hanging up in here and we take great pride in that. It’s a hard thing to accomplish, and they’ve been close, but they haven’t done it, and they’re coming after us. They’re really getting after it and playing well and competing. We’ve got to stand up to that. We’ve got to match-up to that intensity.”

And that’s what Golden State did. While they didn’t look like the 73 win squad that rolled through the regular season, the Warriors played hard and with grit. They are not ready to stop being NBA champions.

“I kind of knew after the game in OKC,” Golden State’s Draymond Green said. “The way everybody reacted to losing, the way everybody talked and felt, and going into film this morning you could just see everybody was up, everybody’s spirits were high after the film, after the walkthrough. Everybody’s spirits were high. I knew then that everybody was ready to go and was going to bring that dog to the game.”

That dog Green spoke of showed up in the hustles points and at the free throw line, where they held a 34-24 advantage in attempts. They also tied the Thunder with 45 rebounds, which is a loss Oklahoma City, the top rebounding team in the league.

Despite the loss Oklahoma City still lead the series 3-2 heading into Game 6 Saturday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. They are still one home victory away from a second appearance in the NBA Finals since 2012.

Even though the Thunder dismantled the Warriors in games 3 and 4 at the Peake, Kevin Durant doesn’t want his squad to fall into the trap of just believing because they are at home, they have an easy win in store.

“We know we’re going back home. But we can’t relax,” Durant said. “We’ve got to keep our foot on the gas, and we’ve got to play much better. I thought we played extremely hard tonight. They didn’t outplay us, they didn’t outwork us. I thought both teams were in a slugfest (Thursday). So we’ve got to bring that energy back home. It was a matter of us making a few shots and playing a little more solid defense on them. We’ll see what happens.”

Four players with the most pressure going into Game 5 of WCF

Thunder guard Andre Roberson drives toward the basket during Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. (Photo By Sam Murch)

 By Michael Kinney

1. Steph Curry: The reigning MVP has been anything but MVP worthy in the Western Conference Finals. By his own admission, Curry has not played well in three of the four games. But what puts the pressure on Curry is how fans and media have started to use an injury excuse to explain his less than stellar performance. When you are supposed to be the trans-formative player Curry has been made out to be, excuses can never be part of your game. If he doesn’t put up a fight in Game 5, the Warriors will stay home.

“So this is a tough situation to be in, but the series isn’t over,” Curry said. “In our locker room it’s obviously frustration, trying to figure out how we can get back to being ourselves, and we have an opportunity to do that on Thursday. So excited about that.”

2. Andre Roberson: The Oklahoma City shooting guard has proven critics wrong who claimed he would be a liability in this series. In Game 3 he buried three 3-pointers. He followed that up with a 7 of 13 outing from the field in Game 4. When the Warriors choose to sag off him to protect against Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, he has made them pay. Part of that has to do with coach Billy Donovan finding ways to keep Roberson dangerous.

“Well, it’s funny. Like after Game 2 people are saying to me, is this guy going to even play anymore?,” Donovan said. “Andre’s a good basketball player, and I think sometimes the things that go missing with him is he makes winning plays and he’s a winning player. There’s a lot of things he can do. He offensive rebounds. He slashes to the basket. I have confidence in him shooting the basketball. He’s a great worker.”

3. Draymond Green: The Warriors heart and inspirational leader has been anything but that since his now infamous kick to the groin of Thunder center Steven Adams. His plus/minus the last two games is an outstanding (-) 73. He says the groin incident hasn’t gotten into his head, but there is a noticeable difference in his play. But, much of that may be from the size and versatility of the Thunder. Against most team, Green, an All-Defensive team member, can shut down players. Against OKC he is at a disadvantage, so far.

Draymond always blames himself every time we lose,” Steve Kerr said. “He goes over the top. It’s not his fault. He didn’t play a good game last night, but nobody did. I like that he’s accountable and other guys, Steph, same thing, everybody wants to take blame. But it’s us. It’s all of us. It’s coaches, it’s players, we have to do better, and we’re confident that we will. We’ve got a day here to kind of clear our heads and get back to work (today).”

4. Kevin Durant: It’s a close out game on the road. That’s when superstars earn their paychecks. The Thunder have the Warriors on respirators and just need to pull the plug in Game 5. If they allow the series to get back to a Game 6, anything can happen. A huge game from Durant can go a long way in making sure there is no game Saturday. But the former MVP isn’t trying to put any added pressure on him self.

“I think I’m going out there and playing extremely hard for my team,” Durant said. “I’m going out there and providing some leadership. That stuff is for everybody on the outside who doesn’t know what goes into every possession in the basketball game which you don’t see on the stat sheet. I think that’s one thing I try to bring. Signature game, I think me just being out there helping my team get wins.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at Eyeamtruth@gmail.com

Mountaineers blank Sooners in Big 12 tourney

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Coach Randy Mazey admits to having nightmares. The night before the Big 12 Baseball Tournament began, the West Virginia skipper had a dream about the hottest pitcher on the conference not making it out of the first inning.

Mazey won’t say he had superpowers, but when Michael Grove went down in the first inning with an apparent injury against No. 5 seed Oklahoma, it looked like his nightmare had come true. However, hos Mountaineers were able to overcome the setback and blanked the Sooners 6-0 Wednesday at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

The fourth-seeded WVU has now won 15 of its last 18 games and will face No. 1 Texas Tech at 4 p.m. Thursday.

‘We have all the confidence in the world in guys,” KC Huth said. “We’re just having fun now. Everybody is going out there and playing a big role in the game. Everybody is having fun and the confidence level is really high right now.”

The first inning couldn’t have started any worse for the Mountaineers. After Grove gave up a double to start the game, he collapsed to the ground tagging out Oklahoma’s Ben Hollis up the first base line.

“You won’t believe this, but when I went to bed last night I thought please, Michael Grove get through the first inning,” Mazey said. “I was worried about anything that could possibly happen. All that stuff went through my mind and when it happened, it was like, are you kidding me.”

After staying on the ground holding his right knee for a couple of minutes, Grove walked back to the mound to test out the injury. After a few test throws and sprints, the team decided to pull Grove and replace him with Ross Vance.

“AS soon as he went down, I heard my name,” Vance said. “First thing I thought about was that 9Grove) came in the first inning the last time we played them and ran it and how cool would it be if I could do that for him to.”

Vance quickly found himself in a jam with runners on first and third with two outs. But the senior lefty got Cody Thomas to ground out to end the inning scoreless.

The Mountaineers got something going in bottom of the second inning when they loaded the bases on the Sooners Jake Irvin. However, Irvin battled his way out of the situation by striking out both Jimmy Galusky and Kyle Davis.

Cole Austin finally got WVU on the board with a RBI single up the middle in the bottom of the third. Ray Guerrini tried to added to the score a few pitches later by stealing home. But Irvin was able to snuff out the attempt and Guerrini was tagged out to end the inning.

The Mountaineers offense kept applying pressure. Forcing Irving to go deep in the pitching count, stealing bases and being unpredictable at the plate allowed WVU to keep putting runners on base.

In the bottom of the fourth, Davis was at the plate with runners on first and second. The sophomore clubbed a 3-run homer the centerfield fence to put WVU up 4-0. It was the ninth homer of the year for the Ohio native.

“I saw the centerfielder just stop running,” Davis said. “I saw it land and I was like, ‘wow, that will work.’ It was a great momentum boost for us.”

Vance was nearly unhittable from the time he jumped into the game. In his 8.2 innings of work, he allowed one hit, no runs and kept the Sooners off balance.

Vance got help from a stellar defense that made plays to keep Oklahoma from gaining any momentum. That included a diving catch by centerfielder Huth in the top of the fourth inning.

“I feel like I was able to keep my pitches down,” Vance said. “The ones I left up they hit it right at somebody. So it was a little bit of luck today, a little bit of good pitching and a lot of good defense.”

Note: Mazey didn’t know how severe Grove’s injury to hos knee was at the end of the game. The freshman was taken for test, but Mazey wouldn’t speculate on the severity.

“His knee was acting up when I went out there,” Mazey said. “Ofcoure with a knee, you think the worst. ACL or meniscus or something like that. He’s a super talented kid who is just a freshman. Whether there was any damage in there or not, I wasn’t going to take that chance.”

Can defense propel Thunder into NBA Finals?

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – On Wednesday afternoon the NBA released its list of players who made the All-NBA Defensive teams. The first team was comprised of Kawhi Leonard, Avery Bradley, Draymond Green, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul.

Absent from the first and second team was any member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. In fact, no one from the team is mentioned until Russell Westbrook’s name pops up under other players receiving votes.

Since the All-defensive team is a regular season award, that makes sense. The Thunder ranked 15th in the league in points allowed. Those are not the numbers that earn defensive recognition.

However, as Oklahoma City heads into Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, defense has finally become their calling card.

“We’ve just got to cover for each other,” Kevin Durant said. “We’ve got to play extremely hard. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to give up shots and we’re going to give up layups and threes sometimes, but we’ve got to continue to keep playing through it all.”

With a 3-1 series lead, the Thunder are one win away from knocking out the Golden State Warriors. And defense has been as vital of a factor as anything else Oklahoma City has done. They are allowing 99 points with an 8.0 point differential. That is second only to Cleveland, but Oklahoma City played a much tougher schedule.

Durant has been one of the ring leaders on the defense front. When the Thunder go to its long and tall lineup, he is moved to the power forward spot, which gives him opportunities to protect the rim.

This was not a skill Durant used earlier in his career. But now he has 13 blocked shots in the postseason and has people wondering if he will add the finger wag to his celebration.

“Not as much as Serge has had, but just trying to help my teammates, be there for my teammates, and just contest shots,” Durant said. “If I block them, cool, if I just alter them, that’s cool as well. I’m not going to make any celebrations. I’m just going to do what I do and run back down the court.”

In order for the Thunder to close out this series in Oakland Thursday night, their defense will have to be at its best. With their postseason lives on the line, the defending champion Warriors aren’t going to lie down and just away give what they have fought for the past two seasons.

“They’ve had a lot of frustration over the years,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said about the Thunder. “They’re healthy. They’re whole. They are determined, and they want what we have. We have a banner hanging up in here and we take great pride in that. It’s a hard thing to accomplish, and they’ve been close, but they haven’t done it, and they’re coming after us. They’re really getting after it and playing well and competing. We’ve got to stand up to that. We’ve got to match-up to that intensity.”

Even with a seemingly commanding 3-1 advantage, the tides of fortune can turn in a matter of minutes. Freak injures or the Warriors all of a sudden getting hot at the right moment can derail Oklahoma City’s run to the NBA finals.

The Thunder have the Warriors down, but Durant wants his squad to have a different mindset for Game 5, which tips off at 8 p.m. on TNT.

“Every game you have a sense of urgency, it’s the playoffs and you know what everybody’s playing for,” Durant said. “We’ve just got to come out there and be who we are. We can’t put too much pressure on ourselves we have to go out, play the game, and play with passion and energy. And we know the whole crowd’s going to be against us and we have to stick together even more. Like I said, we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at Eyeamtruth@gmail.com

Warriors unable to put out Westbrook fire

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – There are nights during a long NBA season that Russell Westbrook can be confounding. Whether it’s costly turnovers, too many shots or erratic play, the Oklahoma City guard can be unpredictable.

Then there are the nights like one he had on Tuesday when Westbrook can overwhelm an opponent with his talent and ferocity. Even when facing the two-time MVP, that combination can be too much to contain.

Westbrook collected 36 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds, leading the Oklahoma City to an 118-94 victory over the Golden State Warriors and moving the Thunder within one victory of the NBA Finals.

“Russell just plays with incredible passion,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s just got such great force and great will. And he is also a really really high basketball IQ player. Just his effort and his energy over the entire course of the game was terrific. As a coach, you sit there and have great respect and admiration for someone who plays that hard gives to the game and to his teammates what he gives.”

Oklahoma City grabbed a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference finals thanks in large part to Westbrook’s first triple-double of the postseason.

I just try and read the game,” Westbrook said. “I try let my energy and my aggression impact the game. That’s what I try to do.”

The defending champion Warriors will attempt to stay alive Thursday at home in Game 5.

Thunder forward Kevin Durant scored 26 points on 8-of-24 shooting to go with 11 rebounds. Serge Ibaka and Andre Roberson each scored 17 points, while Steven Adams posted 11 points and seven boards.

Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 26 points. League MVP Stephen Curry was held to 19 points on 6-of-20 shooting, and he and Thompson combined to make just six of 21 3-point attempts. Harrison Barnes posted 11 points in the loss.

The Warriors lost back-to-back games for the first time in the postseason after never losing consecutive games in the regular season during their record-setting, 73-win campaign. They fell by a combined 52 points over the two games in Chesapeake Energy Arena.

I thought our energy was better than last game, but obviously not enough,” Curry said. “It’s a tough situation to be in, but the series isn’t over. In our locker room there is obviously frustration trying to figure out how we we can get back to being ourselves. We have an opportunity to do that on Thursday, so we’re excited about that.”

Durant came out of the blocks on the attack. Instead of settling for jump shots and 3-pointers, he started the night driving the ball to the rim and forcing the Warriors to foul him.

Durant and Westbrook were a combined 12-for-12 from the line in the first half. As a team, the Warriors only attempted 17 free throws in the opening two quarters.

Our game is to try and get into the paint,” Durant said. “Just try and be aggressive. They use their hands really well, so we try to use that against them.”

The Warriors, who fell behind by 14, got back into the game without their superstars leading the way. It was the play of Barnes and Festus Ezeli that helped Golden State close the gap to two midway through the second quarter.

However, the Thunder kept pounding the boards and winning the hustle points. That included Adams getting to a loose ball outside the 3-point arc and firing a fastball pass to Roberson under the goal for a layup.

The play was indicative of the type of night Oklahoma City was having as the Thunder raced out to a 72-53 halftime advantage.

The 19-point lead didn’t last long as Thompson began to tear apart the Thunder defense. After scoring just four points in the first half, he broke loose for 19 points in the third quarter and helped slice the lead down to seven.

Once again, though, Oklahoma City ended the quarter strong to take 12-point advantage. That would be as close as Golden State would get.

For the second game in a row, the Thunder didn’t let up and went for the kill in the fourth. The Warriors had no answer and pulled their starters with 3:15 left.

Oklahoma City had three players with at least 11 rebounds. As a team they outrebounded the Warriors 56-40.

Golden State’s backs are up against the wall for the first time in two seasons. Warriors coach Steve Kerr believes they will put forth a much better effort with everything on the line.

I think we will respond well,” Kerr said. “Like I said, we go home, lick our wounds a little bit. We play very well at home and the idea is to take it one step at a time. We will bounce back, we’ll play much better in Game 5 and we’ll see where it all goes.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at Eyeamtruth@gmail.com

 

Will Thunder home-court be an advantage once again?

By Michael Kinney

With the Draymond Green saga dealt with, both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors vowed to get back to business on the court as they prepared for Game 4 tonight.

Kevin Durant insisted that the Thunder knew all along Green would be playing and prepared accordingly.

“I don’t even think it’s something we should be talking about,” Durant said . “They’re not going to suspend Draymond Green. He’s one of the premier players in the league, on arguably on of the best teams in the history of the game. They’re not going to suspend him. The league is pro-business, so I get it. No hard feelings.”

Despite having Green back, the Warriors have bigger problems they have to deal with. In two games this series, the Thunder have proven to have the ability to adapt to any situation. They went big in Game 1 and went small in Game 3. Both victories.

We’ve got a lot of players that can do a lot of different things that most of the people in their position can’t do,” Steven Adams said. “For instance, KD [Kevin Durant] can guard 1 through 5. Players like that really help with a team like this. They pretty much play a certain way, which is shoot threes and stuff like that. It definitely helps. It shows our versatility.”

But Golden State reminds everyone they have been in this position before. Twice last season they were down 2-1 on their way to winning the NBA title.

Most expect the veteran Warriors to play their best game of the series tonight, not wanting to go down 3-1 to a hungry Thunder squad.

Can’t really focus on what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Steph Curry said. “Like Apollo Creed said, ‘There is no tomorrow.’ That’s basically how you have to think. It may be a cliché or whatever, but the mentality is tonight is the only game we can control.”

However, Oklahoma City’s homecourt advantage has proven to be a real weapon. In the 2016 playoffs, the Thunder have a total of two losses at the Chesapeake Energy Arena by a combined five points.

But coach Billy Donovona doesn’t want his team relying on it or the fact they lead 2-1. He wants the Thunder to play in the here and now.

I think you can get into these scenarios of looking down the road, and the reality is that has no bearing on anything,” Donovan said. “The only thing that really matters is what are we doing right now? How well did we come in today to prepare and adjust and make some changes in corrections. How well did we come in in shoot-around (today) and the preparation and focus do we have, and how well you play for 48 minutes?”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at eyeamtruth@gmail.com

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