Thunder vs. Warriors: Series Preview
I’m not really too much into wrestling. I have family members that live by it, and tell me it’s basically a male soap opera. But I just can’t get past the fact that it’s fake. Yeah, that’s right, I said it. It’s fake! Don’t get me wrong, though. I know the athleticism these wrestler display is real. But the wailing one guy is giving to the next is not. Is there pain associated with hurling yourself throughout the ring? Of course. But the guy (or gal) isn’t really punching their opponent ten times in the head at full force. If that were real, more wrestlers would be dying in the ring. And not outside the ring at 45 years of age due to heart failure brought on by extensive steroid usage. But, hey, that’s neither here nor there.
Outside the facetiousness of the wrestling inside the ring, is the drama-induced setup outside the ring. The character development (protagonists vs. antagonists), the story-building, story-arcing, and story-climaxing (aka the pay per view events), the deceptive hand that controls it all (Vince McMahon). All that ties into the “it” that is professional wrestling. But of all the things I find ridiculous about wrestling, probably the most ridiculous is the “retirement match”. The match where either one or both of the combatants has an ultimatum that if they lose they will retire from the sport. We all know that is never the case, and the “retired” combatant usually comes back at the most “suspenseful” of times either in another match or at a future pay per view event. And then the story arc for that character is continued from there.
For much of this second round series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, it certainly felt like a retirement match. The loser of the series would face severe changes past this season and would look entirely different come next season (hence, the “retirement” part of it). Had the Thunder continued on a more dubious path after their Game 1 defeat by 32 points, the possibility of their roster looking very different next season probably increased tenfold. Had they lost, Kevin Durant probably has doubts about returning to Oklahoma City. And if that occurs, the domino effect on the roster would’ve been heavy.
Luckily, though, the turning point for the series didn’t occur on the court. It occurred in the post-game press conference after Game 1. The Thunder’s two leaders didn’t hang their heads; they didn’t live in the moment. Instead, they channeled their inner veteran and calmed everyone down, to include the members of the media. And while most of it was cliched (“its only one game”, “they have to win four games like we do”, “we’ll come back better”), it proved to be true. The Thunder regrouped after that Game 1 loss and went on to defeat the Spurs in 6 games. With the series loss, now it’s the Spurs that face a ton of questions heading into the offseason after losing their “retirement match”.
Wins in the regular season don’t always paint a clear picture as to how a series will play out. Many variables exist during the season that do not exist during the playoffs. Scheduling, fatigue, and sample size are all factors that come into play during the regular season, but have little to no bearing during the playoffs. But there are always factors within a season series that are highly applicable to the playoff series.
The Golden State Warriors swept the season series against the Thunder 3-0. The most telling stat in this season series is the disparity between scoring in the first three quarters versus 4th quarter scoring. The Thunder and Warriors are basically even in the first three quarters of play in the three games combined, with the Warriors holding a slim edge 251-249. It’s the fourth quarter and beyond where the disparity becomes a gaping chasm. In the fourth quarter and beyond, the Warriors have outscored the Thunder in the 3 games 107-83. That scoring difference has allowed the Warriors to turn close games into laughers and turn deficits into soul-crushing victories by the time the final buzzer sounded.
- Game 1 – Monday, 16 May 2016 at 8:00 PM CST (Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA) TNT
- Game 2 – Wednesday, 18 May 2016 at 8:00 PM CST (Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA) TNT
- Game 3 – Sunday, 22 May 2016 at 7:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK) TNT
- Game 4 – Tuesday, 24 May 2016 at 8:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK) TNT
- *Game 5 – Thursday, 26 May 2016 at 8:00 PM CST (Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA) TNT*
- *Game 6 – Saturday, 28 May 2016 at 8:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK) TNT*
- *Game 7 – Monday, 30 May 2016 at 8:00 PM CST (Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA) TNT*
* – If Necessary
3 Keys to the Series1. Turnovers
Turnover are what you have to deal with when you run an offense like the Thunder. But it still does not change the fact that turnovers can be extremely detrimental. Against the Mavericks or Spurs, live-ball turnovers don’t become that big of a deal because those teams don’t have the horses to consistently run fast breaks. But against the Warriors, those turnovers will get turned into points quickly and quite often. Fail to protect the ball and another avenue of offense opens up for a team that doesn’t need any more ways to score the ball.2. Perimeter Defense
The Warriors are shooting 40.7% from 3 for the playoffs on 30 attempts per game. They have 5 rotation players shooting at least 39% from deep. To say that the 3-point is a big part of their offense would be an understatement. It is why their offense works. The threat of Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson getting hot from deep is the factor that makes their offense great. Outside of Curry’s God-mode game in Oklahoma City, the Thunder have done a decent enough job guarding him, holding him to 6/24 shooting from deep in the two games in Oakland during the regular season.
The Thunder may have to sacrifice a couple 2’s in order to avoid a barrage of 3’s. I’d rather Curry or Thompson get into the paint and dish it Andrew Bogut for 16 points in a game, than for Curry to go off for 40 points on 8 three-point shots. The Thunder may be able to match the Warriors shot for shot from inside the 3-point line, but if the Warriors get hot from deep, the Thunder will struggle to keep up.3. Make them work
The Warriors will likely try to hide Curry on Roberson, while sticking Thompson on Westbrook. That’s what most coaches will do. If that’s the case, make Thompson work for everything he’s got. The Thunder saw, in Kawhi Leonard, the physical toll it takes on a player who has to defend Westbrook for a series. If Thompson could tire out when the Warriors need him most, this could be key to helping the Thunder grab a couple victories in the series. And if the Warriors decide to put Curry on Westbrook, test the hell out of that knee. Put him through several pick and roll scenarios with Durant being the roll man. See if Curry’s knee is really 100%.
If the Warriors decide to go small, making Draymond Green work that much harder on either Steven Adams or Enes Kanter could be big later in the series. Green has his advantages on the perimeter as a point-power forward/center. But he also has his limitation in the paint as someone who is 6’8″. If Steven Adams has reached the point in his development where he can be the small-ball big, that could be huge for the Thunder. The Thunder are starting to look at series for what they are: marathons. If they can keep things even in the beginning, maybe they’ll start to see fruit in the later games of the series as they start to overpower and exhaust the Warriors.
X-FactorsFor the Warriors: Harrison Barnes
He is shooting only 25% from deep for the playoffs and has seemed out of sorts defensively. And now he has to defend Kevin Durant. If he has a good series, the Warriors will likely beat the Thunder convincingly. If he struggles, watch out.For the Thunder: Dion Waiters
For a series that will likely be perimeter-oriented, Waiters will be tantamount to the Thunder’s success. Not only do the Thunder need him to play controlled like he has for most of the playoffs, but they also need for him to score efficiently. A couple of those 3/5 shooting nights from deep would go a long way to helping the Thunder be successful.
Warriors in 6 – I know this is a Thunder site, but the Warriors seem to have the mental edge on the Thunder. I see a lot of the games going by the script that happened in the regular season: close games until the 4th quarter and then a perimeter explosion from the Warriors that puts the game away. I see a lot of fight in the Thunder, but ultimately, the 3-point shot becomes the difference maker between the Thunder and Warriors. Believe me, I hope I am wrong.