After defeating the mighty San Antonio Spurs in the previous round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder proved that however much of an afterthought they were to NBA fans this season, they belonged in the Western Conference Finals.
Of course, when OKC was tasked with toppling the defending champion Golden State Warriors, many folks, including us, thought this was where it would end for the West’s No. 3 seed. Clearly, we underestimated just how good this group really is.
Playing on their home floor at Chesapeake Energy Arena in front of the rowdy Oklahoma City faithful, the Thunder rolled over the Dubs 133-105 in Game 3. And while the players were the ones putting it all together on the floor, plenty of credit needs to go to OKC head coach Billy Donovan. He was masterful in the way he altered the lineups; particularly through the use of “small ball.” He explained to ESPN:
I just think because of our roster and the flexibility on it, and the guys and how invested they are, different series bring out different situations. Obviously we had a run there with Enes and Steven against San Antonio, and we still like that lineup.
We still want to utilize that lineup. But also I felt like [Stephen] Curry and Klay Thompson on the court and then Klay coming off, for us defensively, it may have been a little more in terms of us being able to guard. It create a little but more spacing for us on offense.
From the get-go, Game 3 was a massively one-sided affair, with Oklahoma City pushing the pedal to the metal. The momentum in the series has shifted once again, as the Thunder seem to be in the driver’s seat now. Here’s a look at OKC’s win and how they did it.
1. Came through from the charity stripe
The Thunder made a point to come out aggressively in Game 3. From start to finish, OKC took it to Golden State and completely forced the issue. And in doing so, the West’s No. 3 seed was able to draw fouls, get to the free-throw line, and take full advantage of this opportunity.
With Kevin Durant leading the way at a perfect 12-for-12 from the line and Russell Westbrook not far behind (nine of 11), the Thunder had 37 free-throw attempts in Game 3 compared to just 25 for the Warriors. On top of that, OKC connected on 33 of them to shoot 89.2% from the charity stripe. That’s how you take care of business from the line.
2. Big on the boards
After getting crushed in Game 2 by a score of 118-91, it was imperative that Oklahoma City seize control of Game 3 from the onset. This meant that the Thunder needed to be strong with the ball, fight for each possession, and dominate on the glass. And they did just that.
OKC had an 11-10 advantage in offensive rebounds and, thanks to a game-high 12 boards from Enes Kanter, out-rebounded the Dubs 52-38. If the Thunder are able to keep this up, then the defending champs could be in serious trouble moving forward.
3. Aggressive on the defensive end
Despite allowing 105 points on the night, the Thunder gave the Dubs fits defensively. They pressured the ball, made Golden State work for each bucket, and contested almost every shot. Never once did the Warriors appear comfortable in Game 3.
On the flip side, OKC played with purpose, took advantage of its length, and finished the contest with eight blocks in total. The Thunder proved they could prevent the Warriors from playing their game. The question is, can they do it two more times?
4. Too much in transition
Oklahoma City is one of the most athletic teams in the NBA. If this club is allowed to get out in transition, then it’s going to cause fits for the opposition. Unfortunately for the Dubs, this is exactly what happened in Game 3.
The Thunder pushed the tempo, ran the floor exceptionally well, and blasted the Warriors in fast break points 29-13. While all of this goodness came as a result of a relatively balanced offensive attack, it didn’t hurt that KD and Westbrook combined to score 63 points.
5. Power in the paint
Size, size, and taking advantage of their size. If the Thunder hope to upset the defending champs, this is how they’re going to do it. We saw this firsthand in Game 3 — with Oklahoma City manhandling Golden State near the basket.
The Dubs had no answer for the Thunder’s overwhelming dominance in the paint, as OKC put up 62 points compared to just 44 from Golden State. The Warriors got punched in the mouth and physically overpowered. There’s no other way to put it. If adjustments aren’t made before Game 4, the West could be looking at a new representative in the NBA Finals.