Thunder (25-18, 10-12 road) vs. Warriors (35-6, 19-3 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 9:30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 105.1 (15th), Warriors – 113.4 (2nd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 104.3 (8th), Warriors – 101.2 (1st)
Think back to the first meeting between these two teams on November 3rd. With three minutes left in the first quarter, the Thunder were up 29-19 after Jerami Grant brought the hammer down on Kevin Durant (and let him know about it with a cold stare down).
That, unfortunately, was the high point of the night for the Thunder. At the next dead ball, Russell Westbrook was taken out of the game for his normal first half rest, and the bottom completely fell out for the Thunder. Durant, who was probably a little numb from all the emotional hype leading up to the game, stayed in the game and appeared to be galvanized by the Grant trash-talk. The former Thunder player then proceeded to blitzkrieg his old team, scoring 7 straight points (and 10 total) to finish out the quarter. By the end of the first quarter, the Warriors were up by one point, and they never looked back from that point on.
Was there a lesson to be learned from that game or was it simply one team being better than another team? It’s probably a little of both. The Warriors, as currently constructed, are a better team than the Thunder. I have no qualms about that. They have four elite level players that excel on both sides of the ball and have championship experience. But the Thunder hung with them for much of the first quarter. They were moving the ball around, getting others involved, and playing good team defense. The lesson learned is that against elite teams, you probably have to play like that for more than 9 minutes a night. Outside of Westbrook, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Enes Kanter, and Nick Collison, that’s something the younger players on the roster need to learn. Also, try not to talk shhh to a superstar if you can’t hang with them point for point.
Season Series Summary
This is the second of four meetings this season between these two teams. As mentioned above, the Thunder kept it close for most of the first half, but the Warriors eventually wore the Thunder down, en route to a 122-96 thrashing.
Between the Warriors, the Rockets, and Raptors, this has definitely been the season of offense. Add to that Westbrook and James Harden destroying any previous record of triple-doubles in a modern season, and this was probably what former commissioner David Stern dreamed about when the hand checking rules were eliminated in the 90s. But the fait accompli for this style of basketball is definitely the Golden State Warriors. Other than a bona fide inside scorer, this team has no offensive weaknesses. They feature three of the best shooters in the history of the game and probably the best glue-guy big man since Bill Walton. The three-point shot is their ultimate equalizer and the best asset on offense.
Defensively, they’ve been built to switch on every thing and not get caught up in mismatches for too long. But in reality, their best defense is a sizable lead built by their offense. Just look at the Houston Rockets. They feature players that would never be mistaken for being good defensive players, but yet, their net rating is the fourth best in the league, despite having the 18th ranked defense. How do they do it? By building large leads. When a team is in the lead by a wide margin, they force the other team to play differently than what they are used it. The other team has to play faster and they have to try and get points as quickly as possible. This has a tendency to lead to mistakes, which makes the team with the lead look like they have a better defense than usual.
Steven Adams (concussion protocol)
3 (+2) Big Things
1. Perimeter Defense
Everything against the Warriors begins and ends with perimeter defense. The Warriors feature four players that shoot 39% or better from 3-point territory: the usual suspects (Curry, Thompson, and Durant), and Ian Clark. With Curry and Durant’s ability to also drive to the basket, it makes a doubly hard for a defense to stay completely disciplined, not only for an entire possession, but also for an entire game. The head of the defensive snake for the Thunder is going to have to be Russell Westbrook. If he slacks off, then the Thunder are toast, especially without the presence of Steven Adams in the middle.
2. Andre Roberson
For the first 6 minutes of the first game against the Warriors, Roberson made Durant’s life a living hell. He would hound him in the open court and was long enough to contest his shots in the half-court. But when Jerami Grant awakened the sleeping giant, Roberson was on the bench getting his usual rest. Once Roberson returned back into the game in the 2nd quarter, Durant and the Warriors were primed and there was no stopping them from that point on.
3. Be Pesky
Honestly, about the only chance the Thunder have in this game is to be the pesky, scrappy team that sticks around long enough to make it a game at the end. One of the ways to do that is to target the Warriors’ few weaknesses. First off, the Warriors are middle of the pack in both offensive and defensive rebound percentage. If the Thunder can tap into one of their strengths and win the rebound battle by a wide margin, this may help in keeping them in the game. Secondly, the Warriors have a tendency to be lackadaisical with the ball at times. If the Thunder can create several more turnovers and convert them into points, they may have a chance to stay in the game until the end.
4. Enes Kanter
Kanter could be an absolute weapon in this game or he could be the ultimate detriment. We’ve tried this experiment several times now, and the results point to Kanter not being very effective in this type of game….unless he is. There have been flashes where Kanter uses his height and strength to power of the likes of Green and the other Warrior bigs. But those were usually in spot reserve minutes. With Steven Adams out, Kanter will likely be forced to play starter minutes (25-30+) and the Thunder will need him to be effective on the offensive end and good enough on the defensive end.
5. The Others
Russell Westbrook will be Russell Westbrook. That much is certain. But the others on the team have to step up in order to keep the Thunder competitive. The Warriors come at you in waves, and a simple 5 minute stretch where you struggle to score could be the death knell for your chances in that game.