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Oklahoma City Thunder Eliminated By Defending Champion Warriors 96-88, Golden State Returns To NBA Finals

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A valiant Oklahoma City post-season run has ended as Golden State returns to the NBA Finals

All good things must come to an end. Such was the case for Oklahoma City's 3-1 series lead. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry scored 36 and dished eight assists as Golden State prevailed 96-88 to set up an NBA Finals rematch with Cleveland.  Meanwhile, the Thunder's season ends just shy of the promised land.

Oklahoma City was again led by the All-Star duo of Kevin Durant (27 points, seven rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (19 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds). However, after a strong first half, the Thunder succumbed to an unrelenting Warriors onslaught in the final 24 minutes of play.

The real nail in the Thunder's season came during a decisive Warriors third quarter run. In that fateful stanza, the defending champions outscored OKC 29-12 and never let up. For the game, eleven Golden State players found their name in the scorer's column. Draymond Green's 11 points rounded out the Warriors' double-digit scorers; while Serge Ibaka was the lone OKC player to join Durant and Westbrook in twin figures.

Oklahoma City opened with a defensively dominant first quarter. Over the first 12 minutes of play, the cool-handed visitors held Klay Thomspon scoreless. Meanwhile a measured Durant and Westbrook shared the ball, leading the Thunder  to a 24-19 lead at the end of one.

During the second stanza, Enes Kanter exploded for eight points. The Thunder parlayed this bench help to a 35-22 advantage as 7:22 remained in the half. However, a scoreless Thompson caught fire, uncorking three consecutive three pointers to bring the defending champions within four, 33-37. From that point each team traded extended scoring runs as Oklahoma City entered the half clinging to a tenuous 48-42 lead.

With a little over six minutes remaining in the penultimate period of play, consecutive Curry three's put Golden State up for good, 57-54. Reserve Shaun Livingston then scored five straight, increasing the Warriors' lead to 64-58. To end the third, a frustrated Oklahoma City unit came unhinged as Golden State would never let OKC back within arms reach.

In the fourth, with their season on the line, desperate OKC  would pull within four 86-90, as the clock read 1:22. Unfortunately for the Thunder, Golden State refused to relent, riding a strong second-half effort to a 96-88 victory.

While the Warriors will attempt to repeat as champions, the major elephant in the room for OKC now becomes the free-agent status of Kevin Durant. After nine seasons, seven All-Star appearances, 17,556 points and multiple deep playoff runs, no one knows exactly what the future holds for unrestricted free-agent Durant.

Following a bounce-back season, things should be quite interesting this summer.