When the Dubs roll a snowball into Hell, the Devil puts on a scarf. Last night, the Golden State Warriors laid to rest the Oklahoma City Thunder, 96-88, their third and final victory of their impossible road from a 3-1 deficit to their return to the NBA Finals.
After the Warriors got humiliated in their Game 3 loss at OKC, these pages wrote the following about the Warriors: “If they lose Game 4, this series and season is over. Being down 3-1 against this Thunders team is a done deal. No, it’s not about not having faith or any other such silly thing. It’s about looking reality in its cold, dead eyes and knowing it’s time. If the Warriors lose Game 4, they’re Bernie Sanders theoretically possible; not going to happen.” The Warriors again got embarrassed in Game 4 and reduced their chances surviving effectively to zero. Theoretically possible; did in fact happen; Bernie Sanders as President confirmed.
So how did they pull it off? It started with Klay. After taking care of business at home in Game 5, the Warriors went back on the road to OKC, the scene of two straight humiliations just days before. Game 6 was the game everyone marked as the final stop for the Warriors in their quest to win back-to-back championships Oklahoma City, sadly, would be the end of the line. And for much of the game, it seemed like it would be. Heading into the second half, the Warriors were down by five. Despite 14-points from Steph in the third quarter, the Thunder expanded their lead to eight going into the fourth. Then Klay traded body blows with the entire Thunder squad, splashing a three for every KD and Westbrook free-throw or layup, and asking what. Klay scored 14 of the first 17 points in the quarter for the Warriors, single-handedly keeping them alive until the rest of the Warriors showed up. Steph would finally tie the game with a 3, Iggy would put on a defensive masterpiece, and Klay would put the Warriors back on top with his 11th three of the game (yet another record: most threes in a playoff game). It is not hyperbole to say that Klay’s heroic 41-point Game 6 will go down as one of the greatest post-season performances in history.
And then Game 7 the hanging judge. There is no Game 8. Game 7 is where it all ends, where you go all in and play for all the marbles. The stage for last night’s Game 7 was in Oakland, but as was the case in the previous four games, it was the Thunder who started out strongest, at one point holding a 13-point lead in the second-quarter. Though eventually cut down to 6, the Thunder again led at the half, 48-42. But the Thunder came out in the third trying to play the Warriors game, attempting seven threes, but missing them all. The Warriors, meanwhile, made five of their first five attempts, tying the game and taking the lead with the three midway through the third. Then the Warriors second unit mopped up the rest of the quarter, with Livingston, Barbosa, Harrison, and Varejao scoring the final 12 points of the quarter for the Warriors, giving them an 11-point cushion going into the fourth. Kevin Durant, so widely criticized for his atrocious performance in Game 6, finally took over for the Thunder, rattling off 11-points, bringing them to within four points with 1:40 left in the game. This was not good. Golden State timeout. On the in-bound play, the ball found itself, of course, in the hands of the MVP, Steph Curry. Attempting a three, Steph was fouled. Three free-throws equals an automatic three points, making it a seven point game. After a flurry of missed shot, rebound, missed shot, rebound, Steph put the game on ice with a final three. Game.
In so many ways, the Thunder were the worst match-up for the Warriors. The Thunders’ sheer athleticism and size were able to overcome the fluidity and efficiency of the Warriors’ systematic offense and overwhelm them on defense. KD and Russ are two of the top five players in the NBA, and stopping them one-on-one can be much more difficult than solving a puzzle like the San Antonio Spurs. Make no mistake about this: the Thunder choked. No team should ever lose a 3-1 series advantage. It almost never happens! Of the 233 times this scenario has occurred in NBA history, the Thunder are only the tenth team to ever walk away as losers, and the first team to ever do so in a Western Conference Final. The Thunder choked. But it was the hands of the Warriors around their neck. That this team won 73 games in the regular season is not an accident. That this team was able to over come two injuries in two playoff series to the MVP is no accident. If any team was going to climb out of their coffin like The Bride, it was going to be this team. These Warriors come out to play.
Next up: The Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals (once again).
Western Conference Finals
Golden State Warriors (1) v. Oklahoma City Thunder (3)
Warriors won, 4-3
Game 1: Warriors LOST, 108-102
Game 2: Warriors WON, 118-91
Game 3: Warriors LOST, 133-105
Game 4: Warriors LOST, 118-94
Game 5: Warriors WON, 120-111
Game 6: Warriors WON, 108-101
Game 7: Warriors WON, 96-88