OKLAHOMA CITY -- A green golf cart waited outside the Oklahoma City Thunder locker room, ready to take Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook through the bowels of Chesapeake Energy Arena to their postgame interview availability. They had done enough carrying on Sunday night; it was someone else's turn.
In their 133-105 evisceration of the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 to go up 2-1 in the Western Conference finals, Durant was stellar with 33 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Westbrook was equally sensational with 30 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists. But the most important stat between them: five total turnovers. One for Durant -- who had eight in Game 2 -- and four for Westbrook.
"My teammates did a great job of driving the basketball and taking the pressure off of me," Durant said. "Not letting me handle the ball as much and just taking the pressure off me, and I was trying to make the correct passes and the simple passes.
"I shouldn't have had that one," he said, "but I'll take one as opposed to eight."
There are simple, direct narratives to focus on coming out of Game 3. Like the Thunder's adjustments, namely Billy Donovan deploying a clever small-ball lineup that stared down the Warriors' vaunted "death lineup."
But if you're looking for a fulcrum moment, a swing where the game changed, well, it started with a kick. With 5 minutes, 56 seconds left in the second quarter, Steven Adams fouled Draymond Green on a drive. Green flailed, kicking his right leg out. It caught Adams square between the legs, leveling the Kiwi 7-footer. Though the crowd chanted "Kick him out!" during the officials' video review, Green was assessed a flagrant foul 1. After the incident, the Thunder closed the first half on a 24-5 run. And then they carried that over to a 45-point third quarter to build a lead of as much as 41.
The Thunder downplayed the kick as a galvanizing moment, though there's no question the Warriors crumbled following it. The Thunder played with pace and intensity, and the Warriors couldn't keep up.
"When you get to this point of the season, you've got to be a smart team," Durant said of the Thunder's response to the kick. "We can't let anything distract us. That's always been like a mantra. Just got to not worry, not try to let anything distract us."
Durant called it keeping "the foot on the gas," which is one way to put what the Thunder did. They completely ran over a team that won 73 games. Coming off the Warriors' 27-point win in Game 2, there was plenty of thinking they had re-established themselves in the series, and the Thunder were going to have to swim upstream. With three days off to adjust, Donovan dialed up areas of improvement and adjustment. He altered his substitution pattern, going with Dion Waiters for Adams with his first sub for an early look of small ball.
Per ESPN Stats & Information research, Donovan played Serge Ibaka at center just 5 percent of the team's possessions in Games 1 and 2. In Game 3, it was 39 percent. The Thunder outscored the Warriors in Game 3 by 34 and shot 71.4 percent when they went small with Ibaka as the lone big man. The Warriors shot just 33.3 percent against those lineups.
The general line of thinking coming into the series was strength against strength, big versus small. Which identity would win out? Nobody outsmarts the Warriors at small ball. Against the Spurs, the Thunder leaned on their twin-tower look with Enes Kanter and Adams to swing that series. But against the Warriors, Donovan took advantage of the wealth of pieces general manager Sam Presti has put at his disposal. That was always the design from Presti. To navigate the Western Conference, you can't just play one way. There has to be a versatility to the roster, one that can bend different ways in different series.
"I just think because of our roster and the flexibility on it, and the guys and how invested they are, different series bring out different situations," Donovan said. "Obviously we had a run there with Enes and Steven against San Antonio, and we still like that lineup. We still want to utilize that lineup. But also I felt like [Stephen] Curry and Klay Thompson on the court and then Klay coming off, for us defensively, it may have been a little more in terms of us being able to guard. It create a little but more spacing for us on offense."
Now it's the Warriors' turn to react. This is uncommon ground. "This season and last season, we haven’t lost wire to wire like this, where they absolutely kicked our ass," Andrew Bogut said.
The Thunder are a different team in their building, and they have the opportunity on Tuesday to really seize control. Momentum in the postseason can be overstated, but they have something working. They left Oakland mad at getting only a split; they wanted to win both games. They believe they have the pieces to stun the Warriors. And with Donovan pushing the right buttons, and his players are making him look smart for doing it, there's good reason for it.