I believe there is an old saying – I’m pretty sure its lineage hearkens back to Steve-O from Jackass – about one good kick in the family jewels deserving another, which is precisely what happened to Draymond Green and the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
First there was Draymond, planting a sneaker in poor Steven Adams’ groin for the second time in this series, and then there were the Oklahoma City Thunder, delivering the swiftest kick the Warriors had taken all season, a 133-105 victory so fraught with eff-you power that it makes you wonder if it might have left the Warriors unable to reproduce the gorgeous playmaking that had gotten them this far in the first place.
It’s a real threat now after that game – the Warriors, possessors of the greatest-regular season record in NBA history, are in legitimate danger of not reaching the NBA Finals. They were outplayed in every imaginable way in Game 3, which means if the Thunder can pull off another performance like this on their home floor in Game 4, Golden State will be down 3-1 and stand one game away from elimination. And maybe it was just a fluke – maybe it was one of those nights when the Warriors took too many quick shots and gave up too many transition baskets and got buried by a team with a bevy of hot shooters and a pair of chip-on-their-shoulder superstars and a flaring sense of self-confidence.
But what if it was more than that? What if the Warriors have simply run into a buzzsaw? What if Green does get suspended for Game 4 for what he insists was that inadvertent attempt to ensure that Adams – whose father produced 18 children by five different mothers – doesn’t spread his seed so prolifically? What if Kevin Durant (33 points) and Russell Westbrook (30 points) continue to find ways to get teammates like Dion Waiters (13 points on 6-of-11 shooting) and Andre Roberson (13 points on 5-of-9 shooting) involved? What if the Thunder continue to be the better transition team, threading through the Warriors for easy layups?
Let us acknowledge that this won’t be a simple feat. There is a reason the Warriors haven’t lost two games in a row all season long; just as they did in Game 2 of this series, they have a way of leaving losses behind, of forgetting about the circumstances and just finding ways of rediscovering themselves. What are the odds, after all, that Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson shoot a combined 15-for-36 in two consecutive games? What are the odds that pretty much the entire deep supporting cast on the Warriors – particularly Green, whose plus-minus on this night was an astounding minus-43 – proves ineffective, and what are the odds that the Warriors somehow fold up their tent two games a in row, like they did in the second quarter last night, giving up a 24-5 run to the Thunder post-Adams’ Hans Moleman impression to trail 72-47 at halftime?
But there is little doubt that the Thunder have served notice now – no team had scored as many as 72 points in a half against the Warriors all season, after all. That Game 1 victory was anything but a fluke; if the Warriors don’t have Green in Game 4 because of that kick, they’ll be in an even more precarious position, particularly given how well the Thunder’s big men, most notably Adams and Enes Kanter, have played in this series.
“We stay together, I think, even when you might be behind the eight ball like we were last year, down 2-1 twice in the playoffs. Or not playing our best game,” Curry said before Sunday night’s blowout. “We don’t splinter as a group. We kind of use those opportunities to come together, which is what champions are all about.”
Still, in the roughly two years they’ve electrified this league and essentially altered the DNA of the NBA itself, the Warriors have never been behind an eight ball like this one. You might even call it a pair of eight balls, the way things went last night, and the only way to extricate themselves from a predicament like this one is to shake off the pain and get right back to it.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games, now out in paperback. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb