OKLAHOMA CITY • The Golden State Warriors arrived at the Chesapeake Energy Arena as the greatest basketball show on earth.
The defending champions and the most credentialled regular-season team in National Basketball Association history, with 73 victories, left on Tuesday on the brink of elimination.
They were battered in successive games by an Oklahoma City Thunder team who played like a tornado. With a convincing 118-94 Game 4 victory, the Thunder took a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference finals, setting up a close-out game today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time) in Oakland, California.
Russell Westbrook played more like the league's most valuable player than Stephen Curry, who won the MVP award this season and last.
Westbrook riddled the Warriors' defence for 36 points and 11 assists, with 11 rebounds for a triple-double. Kevin Durant added 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Thunder.
Golden State have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Only nine teams in National Basketball Association history have overturned a 1-3 series deficit. The leading team has beaten the other 223 times.
In the last two games, the Thunder's line-up of Russell Westbrook, Dion Waiters, Andre Roberson, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka outscored the Warriors by 56 points.
"I know that my energy and aggression can impact the game," said Westbrook. "I was just using my size to get to the basket and create some havoc."
Curry endured a six-for-20 shooting night, with six turnovers. Klay Thompson had 26 points to lead the Warriors, who finished with 21 turnovers.
"This is probably the longest team in the league that we're facing, and we are continuing to try to throw passes over the top of their outstretched arms," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of the turnovers. "It's probably not a great idea."
Most satisfying for the Thunder and their raucous fans was Draymond Green's continued poor play - he shot one for 7 and had six turnovers - after the NBA did not suspend him for his kick to Steven Adams' groin in Game 3.
"The league is pro-business - he's one of the best players," Durant said, suggesting the league was not going to meddle too much in its marquee series. "We're not upset about it; that's just how it goes."
For his part, Durant came out of the blocks on the attack. Instead of settling for jump shots and three-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.
The Thunder kept pounding the boards and winning the hustle points too. That included Adams getting to a loose ball outside the three-point arc and firing a fast-ball pass to Andre Roberson under the goal for a lay-up. The play was indicative of the type of night Oklahoma City were having, as the Thunder raced to a 72-53 half-time lead.
Thompson, after scoring just four points in the first half, broke loose for 19 points in the third quarter. Once again, though, Oklahoma City ended the quarter strong to take a 12-point advantage.
For the second game in a row, the Thunder did not let up and went for the kill in the fourth. The Warriors had no answer and pulled their starters with 3:15 left.
Golden State lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, falling by a combined 52 points over the two games at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Curry was held to 19 points on Tuesday, adding to the speculation that he is not entirely healthy.
"I'm fine," 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 can get back to being ourselves. We have an opportunity to do that on Thursday, so we're excited about that."
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS
GOLDEN STATE V OKLAHOMA CITY
Game 5: StarHub Ch202, tomorrow, 9am