Western Conference Finals (Best 4 of 7)
Warriors (9-3, 2-2 road) vs. Thunder (9-4, 4-2 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Series tied 1-1
Playoff Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats – out of 16 teams)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.4 (3rd), Warriors – 112.7 (2nd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.3 (9th), Warriors – 98.6 (3rd)
Think back to five days ago. That was the day after the Oklahoma City Thunder took a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals on a come-from-behind performance that saw them dominate the 2nd half of Game 1. The national pundits were lauding the support system of the Thunder, while questioning how healthy MVP Stephen Curry was. Fast-forward the chronology to three days ago, and the narrative completely changes. Now people are wondering whether the Thunder will even win another game. They are questioning what is going on with Kevin Durant, who is struggling to match to his usual efficient self in these playoffs.
Narrative in the playoffs are like pendulums: they tend to swing from one side to the next at the drop of a dime. Even the Eastern Conference Finals is likely to feel a little shock to its core after Toronto dominated Game 3 from end to end. Let that series go 2-2, and some people will start to wonder whether LeBron James can get it done (really?). Sometime, you just have to separate yourself from all the noise and look at the facts:
- The series is tied 1-1. While the Warriors dominated the 2nd half of Game 2, the Thunder did the same to them in Game 1. And don’t forget that with 1:35 left in the first half of Game 2, the game was tied at 49.
- The Thunder’s superstars have yet to play like superstars. Durant has an efficient, superstarish type game in Game 2 in terms of shooting, but also suffered through 8 turnovers in 35 minutes of action. In two games so far, Durant has 13 turnovers to 4 assists. Russell Westbrook, on the other hand, has seemingly lost his shooting touch. In the first two games of the series, Westbrook is shooting 12/35 from the field and 3/9 from deep. He seems to be getting to the rim, but is having trouble slowing down once he gets there.
- If the Thunder win, it will be a small margin of victory. If the Warriors win, it will likely be by a large margin of victory. That is the nature of these two teams. In terms of talent, the Warriors have more. I’m not afraid to admit that. From 1 through 8, they are more efficient and more talented. So, when they win, they will likely win big. But the Thunder are more rugged, and better equipped to handle a close game. Which is why if they win, it will likely be by a small margin. The way the first two games played out will likely have no bearing on the rest of the series.
The Thunder are currently in a good spot. They have home court advantage in a 5 game series. They would’ve loved to have swept the first two games in Oakland, but I’m pretty sure the secondary objective of getting at least one in Oakland feels pretty good also. Now the ball is in the Thunder’s court….literally.
3 Big Things1. Defensive Switching
The Warriors took advantage of the Thunder switching everything defensively, but not in the way you would think. Instead of catching the Thunder with a big on Curry or Klay Thompson, they instead took advantage of the Thunder smalls switching onto the Warrior bigs in the middle of all that switching. What happened was that the Warriors were a +9 on the boards and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds. Against a team like the Warriors, giving them 15 more cracks at the basket is basically Naismithian suicide.
The Thunder may need to rethink the whole switch everything mantra. Westbrook and Andre Roberson do about as good a job as any of getting under the screen and sticking with Curry and Thompson. Will they get by them from time to time? Of course, but if that means holding on to one of your advantages (rebounding), then I say do it.2. Managing the runs
Billy Donovan has to do a better job of recognizing when the bottom is about to fall out on a run. With 1:35 left in the first half, the Thunder and Warriors were tied at 49, with the Thunder controlling the tempo. From that point on though, the Thunder were outscored 8-0 to close out the half. The Thunder took bad shots and committed silly turnovers. Timeouts are golden in the NBA, but if you allow a team like the Warriors to go into half-time with a ton of momentum on its side, you are usually asking for trouble on the other side of halftime. Which is what happened to the Thunder in Game 2.3. Bench
The vaunted Thunder bench disappeared in Game 2. Enes Kanter probably felt like the 2nd grader with bifocals and braces with all the times he was picked on. He had just 6 points and 2 boards in that second game. If he isn’t playing to his strengths, he becomes a liability on the court. Dion Waiters saw an efficient Game 1 go by the wayside in Game 2, shooting just 3/11 from the field for 7 points. In a series that is dominated by perimeter offense, I think we may see a little bit more Anthony Morrow or Cameron Payne in the next couple of games. Morrow especially, as the Thunder need to find a way to clear the lane for Durant and Westbrook to operate with a little more space.