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Warriors in familiar position, but against a different beast

Oklahoma City unleashes its firepower in Game 3 beatdown

POSTED: May 23, 2016 7:54 AM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell


— This might be the first documented case where somebody kicked someone else in the manhood, and the kicker collapsed harder than the victim.

This isn't meant to make light of Draymond Green's curious foot placement on the body of Steven Adams, but an attempt to explain what happened next, how Green and the Golden State Warriors wound up wearing the ice bag and wincing. Through three games of the Western Conference finals, the Warriors are down 2-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and fresh off a Game 3 beatdown, are facing their most serious challenge since becoming a superteam a little more than a year ago.

There's certainly no reason for them to panic, or to overstate a 28-point loss. It is, however, time for them and everyone to concede the obvious: this Oklahoma City team and this series is unlike anything the Warriors have seen before.

Warriors on Game 3 Loss

Steve Kerr, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry address the media following the Game 3 loss to the Thunder.

The record will show the Warriors trailed 2-1 twice in the 2015 playoffs, to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals and the Cleveland Cavaliers in The Finals. Each time the Warriors responded emphatically, and both on the road. They won by 17 in Memphis and 21 in Cleveland and once order was swiftly restored, the Warriors went about the business of being champions.

But these aren't the scoring-challenged Grizzlies or the injury-ravaged Cavs. These are the Thunder, healthy and loaded, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook locked in. Finally, the Warriors are being confronted by a threat without asterisks, an opponent on or close to their level.

And what do we make of the Warriors at this point? It'll be up to the NBA police to determine if Green's kick was malicious enough to warrant a one-game suspension. After having the ball stripped from him during a jump shot against Adams, Green's right foot caught Adams flush during the follow through.

That will be tricky for the league. How can you know for sure about intent? Without that, it would be a reach if the NBA punishes Green and therefore affects a playoff series, even though Cleveland's Dahntay Jones was just hit with a suspension for a similar crime, and even if this was the second time in as many games where Green connected with Adams' groin.

Inside The NBA: Green's Flagrant 1

The Inside crew talks about what they thought about the flagrant one foul called on Draymond Green.

No surprise, there was dueling stances on the subject.

Adams: "It's happened before. He's pretty accurate."

Westbrook: "I don't think you can keep kicking somebody in their private areas. It looks intentional to me."

Green: "I was following through with my shot and my leg went up. I don't see how anyone can say I did that on purpose. I didn't even know it happened."

Green did plead guilty of delivering a dud of a performance, and for that, he kicked himself.

"Awful," he said.

Inside The NBA: Green Interview

Draymond Green talks about his foul on Steven Adams that led to a flagrant 1 being called.

He spoke for his teammates as well, because the Warriors were manhandled in every way. The second quarter was a complete wipeout, with the groin kick being the trigger point; at one stretch the Warriors shot 2-for-22. Oklahoma City came at them in a rush, which turned into an avalanche, then a rout. It was weird sight to see: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson hitting rim (they were 5-for-19 combined from deep) and Golden State being two steps slow defensively, giving up 133 points and spotting Durant and Westbrook a combined 63 (on 20-of-34 shooting). The Oklahoma City lead reached 41 at one point, and the series suddenly has a different flavor.

You can adopt the it-counts-as-one-loss approach, and that's what the Warriors used to massage their bruised egos, or you can suspect a deeper meaning. After all, the Warriors won 73 games and staked a claim to belonging in the conversation with the best teams ever. And over the last 87 games, they haven't lost two straight. Just for comparison's sake, the 1986 Celtics never fell behind 2-1 in the playoffs and their biggest loss was 15 points. The '96 Bulls, who won 72 games, did suffer a 21-point beating, but that was after they took a 3-0 lead on the desperate Seattle SuperSonics (who, coincidentally, moved to OKC in 2008 and became known as the Thunder) in the NBA Finals.

So perhaps the Warriors' legacy (and their playoff lives) are on the line simultaneously now. Throughout this season, and a portion of last season as well, the Warriors have absorbed pot-shots from folks who questioned their authenticity. It was Oscar Robertson dismissing the idea of Curry being the best shooter ever, and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers explaining how the Warriors didn't see the Clippers or San Antonio Spurs in last year's playoffs. There was LeBron James debating the definition of "valuable" in the MVP that went to Curry and Golden State being constantly reminded the Cavs were missing two All-Stars last summer.

Inside The NBA: Game 4 Preview

The Inside crew talks about what each team needs to do to take Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.

And now, there's fuel to those arguments. The Warriors are staring at a legit roadblock in their quest to repeat as champs and have looked overmatched at times against Oklahoma City, a team they didn't lose to this season, and this was evident in Game 3.

"We kept our foot on the gas," said Durant, as opposed to a certain Warrior keeping his foot somewhere else.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr sounded incredulous that the Green kick had become a topic and was even more surprised that, after a replay review and huddle, the referees charged Green with a Flagrant 1. A suspension? Kerr thinks not.

"I would think they'd rescind it," he said. "This stuff happens all the time. Westbrook kicks out his feet on every three and there is contact, I mean, that's part of the game."

Green: "Everyone knows you're taught to raise your right foot when you're jumping off your left. When you do that, your right leg goes up. It frustrated me that he got free throws. I know I didn't do it on purpose."

As expected, the kick left someone doubling over in pain and on the floor. The surprise was it was the Warriors, and especially Green, their emotional leader, who missed eight of his nine shots, had only four rebounds and never displayed his usual aggression or fire. He was flat and so were the Warriors, and now they're engaged in an alley fight.

In their Game 1 win, Oklahoma City flexed with the interior muscle of Adams and Enes Kanter. In Game 3, those centers were minimized and the Thunder instead pulled a shock by going and sticking with a smaller lineup. That would seemingly play right into the Warriors hands, except a blowout loss would beg to differ.

Or maybe the Warriors were victims of a second quarter that just got out of hand. Whatever, they're down a game to an Oklahoma City team that, unlike the last four years, are healthy and bringing twin superstars flanked by a solid supporting cast.

"I think we're still in a good position, believe it or not," said Thompson. "We've been down 2-1 before and we've been with our backs to the wall. When we feel threatened, I think everyone raises their level of intensity and their level of play. So it's not time to panic for our team. It's just time to get back to the basics and simplify the game and we'll be alright."

That's what you expect to hear from a defending champion that crushed all comers during a record regular season and didn't lose a game with a healthy Curry in the first two rounds. And so, it's not really about what else the Thunder will bring; instead, it's how the Warriors will respond. Knowing his team better than anyone, Kerr has a hunch.

"I'm confident that we're going to come out and play a really good game in Game 4 and we'll see what happens."

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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