Western Conference Finals (Best 4 of 7)
Thunder (11-6, 5-3 road) vs. Warriors (11-5, 8-1 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 8:00 PM CST
Series tied 3-3
Playoff Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats – out of 16 teams)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.1 (3rd), Warriors – 110.0 (2nd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.0 (9th), Warriors – 101.1 (5th)
Well, this is what we’ve let it come down to. After two chances to take down the defending champs, the series shifts back to Oakland for a final deciding game. And honestly, it is quite apropos. Almost poetic in nature. The Western Conference, especially the top 3 teams, is where the cream of the crop resides in the NBA. Yes, Cleveland lays claim to that title also. But in terms of top heaviness, the Western Conference had no foe. The Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs had to battle it out for the right to play against the best regular season team in the history of the NBA. The youth and athleticism of the Thunder outlasted the experience and guile of the Spurs in 6 games.
While the Thunder had been competitive against the Warriors in the three games they played in the regular season, the reality was that the Thunder lost all three of those games in various fashion. If experience is the best teacher, then there was no reason to believe that the Thunder had a chance in this series. Yes, they may sneak in a game or two, but the Warriors, from top to bottom, were a better team and seemed to have a Jedi-mind trick in place against Oklahoma City.
But then the Thunder did something crazy. They won the first game of the series. In Oracle. But after Golden State won the next game by over 20 points, the narratives remained the same. Yes, the Thunder had stolen home-court, but that second game proved the first one was just a ruse. Oklahoma City caught the Warriors by surprise in that first game. Then Games 3 and 4 happened, and the NBA, as a whole, was flipped upside down. The Thunder dominated the Warriors in a fashion that hadn’t been seen since the Steve Kerr/Steph “MVP” Curry had started. Oklahoma City had a commanding 3-1 series lead and had a home game left in its back pocket.
Golden State won a close one in Game 5 at home. They were up most of the game, but couldn’t completely shut the door on the Thunder. Many thought, with the home crowd behind them, the Thunder would take the momentum from Game 5 and run roughshod over the Warriors in Game 6. And for much of Game 6, it looked like the Thunder were nearing on that prophecy. But much like the Warriors in Game 5, they could never shut the door on the Warriors. They just let them hang around and then it finally happened. The Warriors took the lead and they never looked back.
We all knew there would be a game like this. A game, where the 3-pointers reigned for the Warriors. A game where the 4th quarter struggles would haunt the Thunder. A game where the Thunder would shun what got them to this point (team ball) in favor of their default from the past (isolation ball). A game in which Dion Waiters would turn back into a pumpkin. A game in which Draymond Green would find the groove that made him the best glue guy in the NBA. Unfortunately for the Thunder, all those things happened in the most important game of the season for them.
So here we are. Game 7. Uncharted territory for both teams in these playoffs. Win or go home. If I would’ve told you in the middle of March, when the Thunder were mired in a funk of losing 8 of their first 12 games after the All-Star break, that they would be in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors, you’d have thought the Spurs had suffered some sort of catastrophic injury. Instead, after the Thunder let a 3-1 lead slip away, it now seems like the Thunder pissed their entire season away.
And yet, the Thunder still stand with a chance for redemption. And that’s what this season has been all about. After four years of injuries and disappointment, this is where the Thunder stand. This is where Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are. If they want the return trip to the Finals they’ve so desperately desired, its still there for the taking. It’s on them.
Durant can’t go 10-31 for a third straight game. Westbrook cannot cough the ball up four times in the most crucial two minutes of the season. Andre Roberson and Steven Adams cannot get into foul trouble. Billy Donovan has to find more rest for his two superstars throughout this one crucial game. Serge Ibaka cannot disappear in the 2nd half. Dion Waiters must reappear after being lost for 2 games. Enes Kanter must continue to take advantage of the Warriors’ bench bigs when the opportunity presents itself. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry cannot go all Rucker Park on the Thunder again. Draymond Green needs to struggle again. All these things have to happen for the Thunder to win. And the great part about it all is that it can still happen. Will it be difficult? Of course. But I believe. I’m a bit humbled after my confident primer before Game 6. But I still believe. Considering all that the Thunder have gone through the last 4 months, for belief to still be a factor is amazing. #Believe