Thunder vs. Warriors: Game 1 Pregame Primer
Western Conference Finals (Best 4 of 7)
Thunder (8-3, 4-1 road) vs. Warriors (8-2, 6-0 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 8:00 PM CST
Series tied 0-0
Playoff Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats – out of 16 teams)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 111.3 (3rd), Warriors – 113.1 (2nd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.0 (9th), Warriors – 98.4 (3rd)
Rewind back to the anticipation of Game 1 in the San Antonio Spurs series. In the regular season, the Spurs and Thunder played two closely contested games when they put out their full complement of players. That trend should have continued heading into Game 1 of that series. But we all know how that game played out. The Thunder came out unprepared and lackadaisical and ended up losing by 32. Many teams would have crumpled after that performance, but the Thunder regrouped and eventually won the series in 6 games.
Fast-forward to tonight. While the Spurs’ series ended in victory, I highly doubt the Thunder want to try and mimic the same results with the Warriors’ series. The Spurs were able to run up a 40 point lead with an offense that you would consider efficient, but not very explosive. The Warriors’ offense is both. Mess around with them and that 40 point lead is a 50+ point lead. It would behoove the Thunder to come out prepared and with a sense of urgency.
3 Big Things1. Recaliberation
The Thunder will have to recaliberate more than the Warriors will. The Trailblazers’ style of play is more similar to the Thunder’s, than the Spurs’ is to the Warriors’. With the Warriors having just played a team that is iso-oriented from the perimeter, it will be far less adjustment on their part. The Thunder on the other hand, go from a defense-first, slow down, iso-centric outfit in the Spurs to the top pace and space team in the league in the Warriors. After six games against the Spurs, there will definitely be an adjustment period in this first game of the series.2. Line-up Experimentation
The same things that worked in the Spurs series may or may not work in this series. This especially holds true for Enes Kanter. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan has hidden Kanter’s defensive weaknesses by placing him on a wing who can’t shoot or drive (namely Shaun Livingston). With that card already on the table, when Warriors head coach Steve Kerr adjusts (and you know he will), how will Donovan counter?
Another question is whether the Thunder will try to increase their wing depth. Right now, it’s basically Dion Waiters and about 8-10 minutes of Randy Foye. Will Kyle Singler see time against the Warriors? Will Cameron Payne get another shot? I think Singler may see some time, especially if Harrison Barnes plays with the bench unit. But Cameron Payne has likely played his last minute of meaningful action in the playoffs.3. Defensive Philosophy
The number one question becomes, who guards Curry? The obvious answer is Russell Westbrook. But if you want to preserve some of Westbrook’s energy for use on the offensive end of the floor later in the game, then Andre Roberson becomes the next best option. Congratulations, Roberson. You go from defending Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard in one series to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the next. It may not matter most of the time. With the amount of pick and rolls the Warriors run, the primary defender is usually out of the picture by the time Curry takes a shot anyways. And that’s where the defensive philosophy comes into play.
In the Spurs’ series, the Thunder were okay with the Spurs’ offense becoming an iso-oriented offense, even if LaMarcus Aldridge or Kawhi Leonard were torching the scoreboard. If the ball is in one player’s hands, then you, as a defense, can keep track of the ball. But if the ball is zipping from one player to the next, with pick and rolls interspersed throughout, then the defensive alignment loses its discipline and the open man is usually found by the offense. The saying usually goes, “One player can’t beat a team.” But we saw what happened in the Warriors’ game played in Oklahoma City earlier this season. Are the Thunder going to try to make Curry beat them by himself while heavily defending the other players or will they focus on Curry and hope the Thompsons and Greens of the team miss enough shots?