The Thunder offense wound up being a lot of one-on-one with little ball movement. OKC finished with just 11 assists, its lowest total since the third game of the season when it had 10 assists in a 120-99 loss at home against Utah.
The Thunder had averaged 109 points and 18 assists the first two games of the series.
"We were much better defensively tonight, and you know, we had to be" Carlisle said. "The first two games were poor. We were very fortunate to win the first game (121-112). But tonight, we played championship-level defense for the first time in the series and now the challenge is to sustain (it)."
Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant finished with 24 points and was 7 for 22 from the field (0 for 8 from 3-point range). Carlisle said the key to defending Durant was giving him little room to roam.
"Durant is a guy you game-plan for in your sleep because he's so great," Carlisle said. "I mean, he is great. I've never seen a guy 6-10, 6-11 that can do the things that he can do on the floor with the basketball, putting the basketball in the hole and the efficiency with which he does it. I mean, it's unprecedented, really.
"And so the first two games, we were allowing him too much space."