We’re about two hours from tip-off in Oklahoma City, and my sportswriter’s façade is cracking like cheap stucco.
I’m pretty good at sounding unimpressed by sporting events at this point. Most of us in the press box are. We love our jobs, but it’s against the code, unseemly even, to appear too enthusiastic about a game. And how can we properly do our jobs (e.g., tracking Festus Ezeli’s plus/minus) if we’re busy smiling and saying “boy, is this great!”?
But I’m gonna level with you. I am fired up for Warriors-Thunder Game 4, more so than I have been for an NBA game in years. And you should be, too. Here are some reasons:
NOT MUST-WIN, BUT REALLY-REALLY-SHOULD-WIN: The Warriors are an amazing team, one of the best in NBA history. But if they fall behind 3 games to 1, they will be leaving too much to chance. The Thunder are playing out of their minds, but if they lose tonight and get into a best-of-three mini-series, with two of those games in Oakland, their chances are poor. My super-data-driven analysis says that the winner of Game 4 has roughly a 75-percent chance to capture the Western Conference. So yeah, there’s a whiff of desperation in the air in OKC.
THE DRAYMOND WATCH: Draymond Green, the Warriors’ stellar power forward and emotional turbine, is one flagrant foul (or three technicals) away from a suspension. You probably know that. The Thunder definitely know that. Think they might do a little to get under Green’s skin tonight? Think he might get booed a bit at Chesapeake Energy Arena? Think there’s any chance Green will tone down his approach? Ha. “I’m never gonna be careful,” Draymond said after practice this morning.
BIGGIE SMALLS: So much has been written in the past 36 hours about a strategic move made by Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan in Game 3. He countered Golden State’s undersized floor unit – lovingly called the Death Lineup – with his own smaller quintet. And it basically buried the Warriors. The Thunder are convinced they’re onto something. The Warriors insist they simply played horribly on Sunday, and that it had nothing to do with smalls vs. smalls. “Agreed,” guard Shaun Livingston said Monday: “Sometimes it’s just, you know, whatever team wants it more. You can throw the Xs and Os out the window.” Somebody will be proved right tonight.
WAKE UP, LITTLE STEPHY: Stephen Curry made 3 of 11 3-point attempts in Game 3. He missed his final five shots of the second quarter as the game spiraled away from the Warriors. He had just three assists in nearly 30 minutes of action. These are not numbers worthy of an NBA most valuable player, and Curry knows it. Don’t be shocked to see him go insane tonight, as he did against the Thunder here on Feb. 27, when he scored 46 points and tied a league record with 12 baskets from beyond the arc. A rampaging Curry is the one contingency for which OKC would have no answer.
WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS, BUT IT’S CLOSE: There is a tornado warning in effect for seven Oklahoma counties through midnight here. Oklahoma City is not one of those counties (though it ain’t far away), so this is pretty much irrelevant. But it adds to the feeling of impending drama, and I’m going with it.