It might not be the series most people thought they’d get in the Western Conference Finals, but it’s likely the series most wanted. The fireball-throwing Golden State Warriors against the Oklahoma City Thunder and their two-headed monster will give us all what Dubs-Spurs wouldn’t have: Small ball, big ball, speed, size, athleticism, and most importantly, personality.
San Antonio would have attempted to drag the Warriors into the mud in a slow-paced game that would’ve frustrated the viewing audience. The Thunder will not. Get ready for some shootouts and a little bit of chaos.
1.) Gunfight at the O.K. Corral?
One of the widespread beliefs during this NBA season was, you can’t beat the Warriors at their own game. When they go small and spread the game out, your personnel can’t match their personnel in terms of skill.
Do not tell this to Russell Westbrook.
When these two teams met during the 2015-16 season, it’s been a battle of the point guards. Westbrook averaged 18.1 field-goal attempts during the regular season. That number jumped to 25 during each of the their three matchups. Stephen Curry? 20.2 attempts during the season, and 25 during each of the three matchups against the Thunder.
This might be the most entertaining part of the series. There isn’t a better point guard matchup in the league than the one we’re about to see. Westbrook is not fearful of going up against the two-time MVP — not in the slightest. He wants to go at him. And the MVP won’t be afraid of the challenge.
Ah, but there’s a problem. Russ shot only 34.7 percent against Golden State during the regular season. The difference between the two is clear: one is a much, much better shooter than the other. Curry shot 48 percent from the floor in the three games against Golden State, including 45 percent from the 3-point line.
What the Warriors do to your mindset is dangerous. They force you into situations where you want to run with them, where you want to get up and down the floor, launch jumpers and play a fast game. But teams can’t do it the way they do.
If Russ plays the way he did against the Spurs, where he was worse than he was during the regular season, it’ll be trouble. He has to give way to the guy on his team who’s better than he’ll ever be.
2.) Kevin Durant’s freak show?
Offensively speaking, he’s one of the best on the planet. Prior to Steph’s explosion over the last two seasons, he was the best scorer in the NBA. Against the Spurs, he had moments of freakishness.
Kawhi Leonard is the best defender in the league, and Durant still did damage against him; and this is where the biggest storyline lies in this series. When Durant is rolling, he’s impossible to stop. And given the way the Thunder played against the Spurs, the Warriors should be aware of the fact he can be almost as impossible to stop as their own MVP. Almost.
In three games against the Warriors during the regular season, Durant shot 52.9 percent from the field and 47.6 percent from deep. That’s a level of efficiency that’s completely impossible to ignore. The problem lies in the aforementioned element in this series…
Can Westbrook allow Durant to do his thing without sabotaging the situation? Without falling into the trap of trying to outgun Curry? We’ll see.
If Russ reacts to this series in the most effective way, the Thunder have as good a chance to beat the defending champs as anyone. Better than anyone, maybe.
3.) Thunder size or Warriors lineup of death…who wins out?
What the Warriors found in their small lineup, which features Draymond Green at center, is nothing short of beautiful. It has been, empirically speaking, impossible to stop.
But what the Thunder found against the Spurs, as Billy Donovan displayed his coaching chops, was impossible to ignore: Oklahoma City might have the best frontcourt in basketball.
Between Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City found combinations San Antonio simply could not handle. That frontcourt is monstrous. It’s athletic. It’s nasty. But San Antonio can’t do what Golden State can. It can’t force the opposition to change its strategy in the same way. It can’t force a team away from staying big. The Warriors are just different.
Except… Andrew Bogut is dealing with an adductor strain. This isn’t a minor development when it comes to facing the Thunder. As lethal as the Warriors’ small lineup is (and it is lethal… it can do more damage than basically every lineup in the league), that is the type of thing that can hurt you just enough.
At the same time, the Adams-Kanter lineup that murdered the Spurs likely won’t be as effective against the Warriors. It might be TOO big. Golden State utilizes space on the court better than any team in the history of the league, and that always puts big lineups in disadvantageous positions.
The Thunder and Warriors boast two of the most athletic and most talented rosters that exist in the league, as well as (most likely) three of the top five players in the NBA. Outside of Spurs fans and NBA purists who would’ve liked to see a drastic contrast of styles, viewers will find this series to be basketball heaven — especially if Donovan makes adjustments as well as he did during his matchup with Gregg Popovich.
Each of the three games the two teams played against one another this season averaged — AVERAGED — 102.87 possessions per 48 minutes, which would’ve been tops in the NBA during the regular season.
If this was “too long, didn’t read” (tl;dr), then all you need to know is this: These are two of the four best teams in the NBA, featuring three of the top five players in the NBA, about to play a series that might be played at a higher pace than any other matchup in the NBA. Just sit back and enjoy it.
Or maybe more appropriately…
Buckle up. Things are about to get wild.