Western Conference Finals (Best 4 of 7)
Thunder (11-4, 5-2 road) vs. Warriors (9-5, 7-1 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 8:00 PM CST
Thunder leads series 3-1
Playoff Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats – out of 16 teams)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.2 (2nd), Warriors – 109.8 (3rd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 101.9 (8th), Warriors – 101.0 (5th)
During the Sam Hinkie years, the Philadelphis 76ers came up with a saying to help alleviate the concerns of their fanbase as they were rebuilding: Trust the process. Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti could have probably said that same statement to help allay any concerns the Thunder fanbase had with the wholesale changes the team has incurred in the last year and a half. The trades, the coaching change, the free agent extensions, the upcoming free agency of Steven Ada….I mean, Kevin Durant. All those worries have made this probably the most stressful season in Thunder history.
Through all that, though, the team itself has trusted the process. It wasn’t without its struggles and its pains. Change brings about fear. Fear brings about hesitation. Hesitation brings about mistrust in your game. But eventually, if you want to succeed, you have reach a point where you stop depending on just yourself and, instead, start trusting the system around you. All the great players have gone through this. Jordan, Bryant, LeBron. They’ve all had to go through this process. The struggles this team saw throughout the year had more to do with change, than with effort or personnel. All those times early in the season where Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka were mixed up on pick and roll coverage, those were the things that needed time to be shored up.
We’ve reached a point where the Thunder players are now trusting and believing in the system. Gone are the moments where too much thinking leads to lapses on defense or being out of position on offense. This team is now confident in their game plan and are executing it to a tee. The Thunder have always been a contender. You basically get put in that tier if you have 2 of the top 5 players in the league. But now, the team around them is one of the best and deepest in the league. The Thunder has the ability to successfully play every style possible in the league.
With all that said, the Thunder now find themselves on the brink of a Finals berth. It won’t be easy. The defending champs won’t go quietly into that night. But almost like a Contra cheat code, it seems like the Thunder have figured out this Golden State riddle. The Thunder have two shots at eliminating the Warriors (tonight and Saturday night in OKC). I don’t count Game 7, because each team has an equal shot of putting the other team away in that game. It will be difficult, but after a season fraught with uncertainty, wouldn’t it be ironic to win the Western Conference crown on the floor of the all-time winningest regular season team. It can be done. The question is, “will it?”
3 Big Things1. Weather The Storm
The Warriors will come out gunning. We got a glimpse of what desperation looks like in Game 4 when Klay Thompson poured in 15 straight points in the 3rd quarter to turn a 17-point deficit into a 6-point deficit. The Thunder eventually weathered that storm, but only because Thompson picked up his 4th foul and had to sit out. But, if Thompson wasn’t in foul trouble, there’s no telling what he may have done. He had the eye of someone who has scored 37 points in a quarter before. For the Warriors’ sake, we’ll likely see more of that desperation from Thompson and Stephen Curry tonight. It will be up to the Thunder to manage those runs and respond accordingly.2. Stephen Curry
I think we’ll see him with the ball a lot more today. Golden State’s offense is usually orchestrated by Draymond Green. But with Green’s recent struggles, I could see Kerr putting the ball more in his point guard’s hands instead of having Curry play off the ball. There’s a certain gravity when Curry has the ball, and if he is willing to be more facilitator than shot maker, it could help the Warriors’ offense open up once again. As for the Thunder, if Curry wants to play facilitator, they’ll live with Harrison Barnes and Green taking some of what would’ve been Curry’s shots.3. Make the Warriors Pay
That’s what the Thunder have been doing the last 2 games. When the Warriors have paid most of their defensive attention on Durant and Westbrook, those two players have done a great job of finding the open man for the easier basket. If the Warriors shift more of their focus on Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters, and Steven Adams, then that opens up the avenues for Durant and Westbrook. Let this sink in for a minute: The Thunder are doing this to a Ron Adams-coached unit. Continue to keep doing what you guys have been doing, OKC.
Let’s finish it out tonight!