Thunder defense, transition overwhelm Warriors in 133-105 Game 3 rout

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Well, that escalated quickly.

The Warriors had withstood the early explosion of the Thunder at home, hit a few threes and the game was tied 40-40 in the second quarter. It looked like we could be in for a contest that went down to the final seconds.

Then Oklahoma City’s defense started getting in the heads of the Warriors shooters, and it snowballed — especially after the Thunder became motivated by a Draymond Green kick to the groin of Steven Adams (which drew a Flagrant 1 foul). The Thunder’s small-ball lineup of defenders were cutting off Warriors drives and passing lanes, challenging shooters, the Warriors rushed shots, then the Thunder took the misses and got out and ran. It snowballed, the Thunder role players suddenly couldn’t miss, while the Warriors became frenetic and lost their poise (for the second time this series).

The result was a 32-9 run that became a 52-19 run and stretched into the third quarter. To the delight of a raucous Oklahoma City crowd, the Thunder ran the Warriors out of the building winning 133-105.

Oklahoma City now leads the series 2-1 with Game 4 Tuesday night in Oklahoma City. That game becomes vital for Golden State, which can’t afford to go down 3-1, it’s hard to picture them winning three straight in this series.

While the point totals are impressive — Kevin Durant had 33 on 15 shots, Russell Westbrook had 30 on 19 shots — it was the defense from both teams that turned this game. As it did in the second half of Game 1, the Thunder’s length and athleticism clearly bothered the Warriors — and it was the starters and the Warriors’ small-ball “death lineup” that were the biggest problems. The death lineup was -22 on the night and was on the wrong end of the Thunder’s big run. Green was -43 on the evening, Klay Thompson -41, Stephen Curry -39.

“I think it was like 40-40…” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “We put our starters back in and they stopped moving the ball, we were taking quick shots that was just feeding their transition. It wasn’t so much turnovers as bad sh0ts, quick shots, we weren’t forcing them to defend at all. That’s death here because this team is so athletic, and on their home floor they are going to push the ball like crazy.”

The Thunder continue to switch the pick-and-roll, but where the Warriors usually use that to pick apart mismatches and move the ball they haven’t done that against the Thunder, instead just jacking up isolation shots. The Thunder’s athleticism plays into that.

Those Warriors’ starters got frustrated with their offense and allowed that to affect their defense — this was the worst transition defense we have seen from Golden State in the Kerr era. Golden State players didn’t get back on defense, or when they did they looked like little more than traffic cones for Westbrook, Dion Waiters, and other Thunder players to drive around. The Thunder players’ eyes got big and they just kept attacking.

Oklahoma City had their confidence by the third quarter and even though the fast breaks were fewer, they were still hitting everything. This is the Thunder shot chart from the third:

Thunder shot chart

The Warriors have made a point this series of not guarding Andre Roberson because he’s not a threat from the outside — he was 3-of-5 from three and hit 5-of-9 overall for 13 points. It was that kind of night for the Thunder, who were led by Durant and Westbrook they went into attack mode and just steamrolled the team in front of them.

Stephen Curry had 24 points on 7-of-17 shooting, 3-of-11 from three. Klay Thompson added 18 points. Besides their big two, the Thunder also got 14 points from Serge Ibaka and 13 from Dion Waiters.

Much of the postgame talk was about the Green shot to Steven Adams’ groin, and whether it was intentional. I think the referees got it right with a flagrant 1 call, and Green may be writing a check to the NBA because of it. But I don’t think it warranted a suspension — and it gives Thunder fans someone to boo in Game 4.

The Warriors are down 2-1 and while Game 4 is not a must win, it’s close to it for the Warriors.

“We were down 2-1 twice last year, in Memphis and in Cleveland, both times we were blown out in Game 3,” Kerr said. “We have that memory. I’m confident we are going to come out and play a really good game in Game 4.”

They need to, they need to get their swagger back, or this season will end much sooner than the Warriors expected.

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.

Antetokounmpo talks about plans for his 28th birthday while holding Simpsons plush

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Happy birthday, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak turns 28 today.

After he dropped a casual (for him) 34-13-5 line in the Bucks’ win over the Magic last night, Antetokounmpo discussed his birthday plans. He’s not going out, maybe just dinner, playing with his kids, and once they are asleep… ya know.

I feel safe saying Antetokounmpo is the first NBA player to talk about birthday sex while holding a Homer J. Simpson plush doll.

If you’re asking, why the Simpson doll… why not? Bucks reserve forward Sandro Mamukelashvili won it at Universal Studios, brought it to the game, left it behind in the locker room and Antetokounmpo appropriated it.

In a world where most postgame press conferences are formulaic and filled with cliches it’s good to see a player willing just to be himself and have some fun behind the mic.