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