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Thunder mute when it matters most

Oklahoma City's recent fourth-quarter poise evaporates in a flurry of critical miscues as Golden State forces Game 7

POSTED: May 29, 2016 2:32 AM ET

By Lang Whitaker

BY Lang Whitaker


Game 6: Warriors 108, Thunder 101

Klay Thompson scores 41 points with 11 3-pointers, helping Golden State rally past Oklahoma City.

— With a little less than five minutes left to play in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, the future looked bright for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With their raucous crowd rattling eardrums, the Thunder held a 97-92 lead over the mighty Golden State Warriors. The Thunder had seemingly weathered a blistering shooting storm authored by Klay Thompson, who had splashed in six 3-pointers in the second half. If they could hang on, the Thunder would advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2012.

Then the Warriors happened.

There were a couple of improbable 3s from Steph Curry, one last long-range blast from Thompson, Draymond Green mixing it up for an easy bucket, and a couple of free throws sprinkled in for good measure.

The Warriors closed out Game 6 on a 16-9 run to get the win, 108-101, and force a deciding Game 7 back in Oakland on Monday (9 p.m. ET, TNT).

Win or go home. It's as simple as that.

– Thunder guard Russell Westbrook

For the Thunder, the loss brought about more questions than answers. Despite not shooting the ball particularly well -- the Thunder finished 3-for-23 on 3-pointers -- they had every opportunity to close out the series. Yet when it came time to make a closing statement, the Thunder were mostly mute.

During the regular season, fourth quarters were not always the Thunder's happy place: they lost a league-high 14 games where they'd entered the fourth quarter holding a lead. While they had only lost one playoff game in similar situations, Saturday's game doubled that total.

"I felt like we didn't do a great job coming down the stretch," said Thunder coach Billy Donovan, "and I think we've made such great improvements coming down the stretch in terms of just on both offense and defense of doing a better job of executing and that really wasn't -- hasn't been us the last month and a half. I thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch."

Historically, whenever things get stagnant for the Thunder they can usually get help on the offensive end from either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, their two transcendent offensive stars. But neither shined particularly bright tonight, at least by their standards, combining for six fourth quarter turnovers and going 3-for-14 from the field when the Thunder were most desperate for baskets.

Inside The NBA: Warriors-Thunder Game 6 Analysis

The Inside Crew break down Game 6 of the West finals.

"I like my shots," said Durant, who finished 10-for-31 overall, including 1-for-8 on 3s. "It's just a matter of them going in. When I drive to the rim, they're bringing extra guys at me, so I've got to do a better job making the extra pass. I wish I could have got a lot of those shots back. I felt great on a lot of them, but that's just how it is."

"We want [Durant] to be everything he can," said Thunder center Steven Adams. "He's one of the best players in the world, so we want him to be aggressive and he can. We as a team support and trust him, him and Russ. So we give him that freedom. Hopefully we make a play and we do the best we can to put them in the situation we need to be in."

With their offense sputtering, the Thunder's defense, which has been terrific throughout the series, also hit a rough patch, giving up 60 second half points to the Warriors. While the Thunder's athletic roster has presented problems for the Warriors' high-octane offense, particularly with their ability to switch picks and bother shots, tonight the Warriors basically ran a shooting clinic, finishing 21-for-44 on three-pointers. Golden State's vaunted Splash Brothers, Thompson and Stephen Curry, totaled 70 points.

"I said from the beginning, they make shots," said Donovan. "And that's what happened. Klay Thompson made a lot of shots tonight. Give him credit, and some of those shots were closely defended, some of those shots were from deep. And you can do that.

"Listen, they just hopped up and knocked down shots," Donovan added. "It wasn't like Steph was just going one-on-one, Thompson was going (one-on-one)... so those guys were creating and making plays coming down the stretch. And they made big plays."

Thunder on Game 6 Loss

The Oklahoma City Thunder speaks with the media following their Game 6 loss.

The Thunder now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to travel to Oakland and win the most important game of their season, a Game 7 in an arena where the Warriors have lost a total of three games since the season began. If it's any solace, one of those losses was at the hands of the Thunder in Game 1 of this series.

Still, after sitting on what may have seemed like an insurmountable 3-1 series lead just a few days ago, the Thunder have to fix what ails them, and fast. In building that 3-1 advantage, they showed that beating the Warriors isn't just a theoretical idea. On Monday night, they have one more chance to prove that their time is now.

"Win or go home," said Westbrook. "It's as simple as that."

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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