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Russell Westbrook.

Steph Curry's slump has seen Russell Westbrook come into his own with devastating effect

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After a record-breaking 73-win regular season, the Golden State Warriors are on the brink of being eliminated from the playoffs as they trail the Oklahoma City Thunder 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals. 

An 118-94 defeat at the Chesapeake Energy Arena last night saw the Warriors lose back-to-back games for the first time this year, leaving the team in a perilous position that not many expected they'd be in. 

A big reason for that has been the form of Russell Westbrook. The Thunder point guard has been relentless in his approach and produced one of his best displays of the postseason in the game four win as the triple-double leader from the 82-game campaign secured his first in the playoffs with 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. 

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Westbrook's play has coincided with the struggles of MVP Steph Curry, who has looked far from his usual self in recent games.  

He has looked human in the last two encounters in Oklahoma City and a shadow of the player that single-handedly dominated the league.  

So what's the reason behind Curry's slump? 

Steph's woes

The main question being posed after the game was whether he is at 100% after battling ankle and knee injuries during these playoffs.   

Golden State Warriors v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three

Curry has been prone to off-nights on occasions during the season, but very rarely has that happened in consecutive games - hence why the Dubs hadn't lost two games in a row until this point.  

The 28-year-old shot just 6-of-20 from the field and 2-of-10 from downtown for his 19 points against OKC in game four. 

According to ESPN Stats and Info, the three-time All-Star was 2-7 on uncontested shots (including 0-5 from beyond the arc) his worst such percentage this year in which he got at least five attempts.

This came after he went 7-of-17 from the field and 3-of-11 from three-point range in game three. He's experiencing his worst shooting stretch when the Bay Area franchise needs it most.

Golden State Warriors v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three

But there could be a specific reason for that as a report by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports states: 

"Curry has been a shell of himself — missing shots, throwing away passes, losing his dribble, and completely unable to prove that there's Curry-esque agility in that knee. "He's playing at 70 percent, at best," a source close to Curry told The Vertical.

"Curry refuses to make excuses, but privately the Thunder see something —€“ no explosion, no ability to make the bigs switching onto him pay a price. Twenty points on 19 shots Tuesday night bore no resemblance to the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player."

The three-point king enjoyed an incredible two-minute burst in the Warriors' only win in the series in game two where he scored a quick 15 points.

Golden State Warriors v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Four

Any injury wasn't debated then as we once again marvelled at a jaw-dropping display of shooting from the NBA scoring champion. Therefore, putting Steph's woes down to his health problems would be doing a huge disservice to the Thunder and his counterpart Westbrook in particular. 

The OKC point guard has done a tremendous job nullifying his rival with some stingy defence and has punished him on the other end too. 

Head coach Billy Donovan deserves a lot of credit too for electing to switch on every possession with the Thunder bigs of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter doing a good job on Curry when they are forced to guard him in a pick-and-roll situation. 

The Warriors guard, himself, is not going to use his health as a reason for not playing well, either, telling reporters post-game he felt "fine". 

Golden State Warriors v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Four

Despite becoming the only unanimous MVP in NBA history, Curry has not been the best point guard in this series, that title belongs firmly to OKC's number zero.

Westbrook's joy

The Thunder's triple-double machine has been on a tear in the conference finals and is a man on a mission. Along with Kevin Durant, the pair have comprehensively been winning their battle with Curry and Klay Thompson.  

Westbrook has been a force on both ends of the floor and has given Golden State's number 30 a headache on defence when he's had to guard him.

The Thunder are aiming to make the NBA finals for the first time since 2011-12 when they lost out to the big three of the Miami Heat in five games.

Golden State Warriors v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Four

You can see the Thunder's five-time All-Star is intent on winning his first ring - like Curry did last year - and is not prepared to let anybody get in his way.

Speaking before the series began, he was asked how he felt about the prospect of guarding Steph, to which he replied: "He's a shooter he's not nothing I haven't seen."

The 27-year-old certainly hasn't been fazed by the challenge and has instead been exerting himself and dominating by doing almost everything on the court for his team. Which he says he's more than happy to do as long as it helps the Thunder win.

"I'm a guy that doesn't do one thing," Westbrook said last week. "I do everything. I come out and do everything and whatever it is that needs to be done that particular night.

Golden State Warriors v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Four

"If it's scoring, then I'll score. If it's defending, then that's what I'll do. If it's rebounding, that's what I'll do. If it's passing, that's what I'll do. Whatever it is that needs to be done, that's what I'll do to make sure we win."

Coming up against the league's best player and the back-to-back MVP may have given Westbrook that added motivation to take centre stage and be the name on everybody's lips. That isn't something he claims he's interested in, though.

"I play every game like it's my last, regardless of who's in front of me," Westbrook said. "That's my job."

His numbers are evidence of his desire to win. In the postseason, he's averaging an impressive 26 points, 11.1 assists and 6.7 rebounds. This is coming on the back of a regular season where he picked up 18 triple-doubles - the most in a single season in the last 40 years.

Golden State Warriors v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Four

His latest big night saw him become the first player with a 35 point triple-double versus the defending champions since Jerry West in 1969.

If KD and Russ do cause an upset and make it to the finals, it would take a brave man to bet against them going all the way having beaten the two teams with the best records this campaign - the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs.

This series still has a few twists and turns yet and if any team can overturn a 3-1 deficit, it must the men from Oakland. It would be dangerous to rule them out - even though teams that take a 3-1 series lead in the Conference Finals are 37-2.

Golden State has not faced an elimination game under Steve Kerr thus far so it'll be a new experience for him and he'll need to prove why he was the Coach of the Year by guiding his team to three wins.

But if they are to stand any chance of stopping Russell Westbrook in his tracks and getting back into the series, they'll need Steph Curry to be Steph Curry.  

Topics:
NBA
Stephen Curry
Golden State Warriors
Pacific Division
Western Conference
Northwest Division
Russell Westbrook
Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant

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