Warriors vs. Thunder: Game 4 Pregame Primer
Western Conference Finals (Best 4 of 7)
Warriors (9-4, 2-3 road) vs. Thunder (10-4, 5-2 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 8:00 PM CST
Thunder leads series 2-1
Playoff Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats – out of 16 teams)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.4 (3rd), Warriors – 111.5 (2nd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.9 (8th), Warriors – 100.4 (5th)
Caution. When I think of this upcoming game, this is the only word I can think of. Yes, the Oklahoma City Thunder completely dominated the Golden State Warriors in a way that hadn’t been seen in the Steve Kerr/Stephen “Basketball Deity” Curry era. But as is the motto of the playoffs: it was but one game. The Warriors didn’t fold after losing a close game in Game 1. And the Thunder didn’t break when they were thoroughly dominated in Game 2. Following this pattern, I fully expect the Warriors to come out prepared and foaming at the mouth for this game. Not only that, but the Warriors have been in this position before. Last season, the Grizzlies and Cavaliers each held 2-1 leads against the Warriors in their respective series. The Warriors went on to win both series in 6 games.
With that said, the Thunder are starting to expose the few weaknesses the Warriors have. For all of their perimeter wizardry, the Warriors have weaknesses on the interior. Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli are good positional defenders, but struggle as true rim protectors. If you take them out of position through offensive movement, they lose most of their defensive/size advantage. The Thunder took advantage of this in Game 3, scoring 62 points in the paint. In addition, the Thunder dominated on the boards, grabbing 14 more rebounds in Game 3.
The biggest revelation in Game 3 may have been the Thunder’s dominance in small-ball line-ups. The small-ball line-up Thunder fans have been clamoring for for years finally came to fruition. With Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant upfront and Russell Westbrook, Dion Waiters, and Andre Roberson on the perimeter, the Thunder were able to dominate the Warriors’ death lineup in a fashion rarely seen in the last two seasons. The Thunder were able to switch everything defensively, and space their offense efficiently on the other end of the floor.
3 Big Things1. Shots Will Eventually Fall
The Golden State Warriors missed an uncharacteristic amount of open shots in the last game. Some were rushed and some were during the “frantic comeback attempt” 3rd quarter, but for a team that lives and dies on the perimeter, not being able to hit open jumpers hurt the team. But as is the Warriors’ M.O., this team will come back in the next game and they will hit more shots. There is a reason the Warriors have yet to lose consecutive games this season. Their bad games don’t compound on top of each other. The shots will eventually start to fall. It will be up to the Thunder to weather the barrage that is likely incoming.2. Draymond Green
Here’s my reaction to the Draymond Green decision: I wouldn’t have cared either way whether the NBA would’ve suspended him or not. They were in the unenviable position of choosing between suspending a key component of a conference final or living with the backlash of not suspending him. There was already precedent set, but most of those incidents happened in the regular season. The most damning thing for the NBA, though, was the fact that less than 24 hours earlier, an end of the bench player for Cleveland was suspended one game for squirrel-tapping someone at the end of Game 3 in their series. The NBA chose to side with Green’s position that it was incidental contact, which in the end, was the safe play. Shit happens, body parts inadvertently flail apparently, and we move on.
What I do have a problem with is retroactively changing the Flagrant-1 that was charged to Green to a Flagrant-2. I know why they did it. It sends a message that the league does not like the contact he made with Adams, while still keeping him active for the game. What gets me is the rule behind the Flagrant-2. If Green would have been charged with a Flagrant-2 in the game, he would’ve gotten tossed, which would’ve essentially been a one game suspension within Game 3. Instead, his Flagrant-1 gets changed to a Flagrant-2, but he misses no time. That makes no sense to me at all. In one scenario, a Flagrant-2 gets you ejected from a game, but in the other scenario, it keeps you active for the next game. Am I missing something here?
Within the game, the Thunder are starting to figure out that the Warriors go as Green goes. He’s the engine that gets everything going for Golden State. If he is stagnant or looking for his own shots, the off the ball action on the other side of the floor doesn’t work and the Warriors’ offense bogs down. With Durant guarding Green, there is nothing Green can do to his advantage. Durant is taller, longer, and quicker. The usual advantage Green has on bigs is negated when Durant is guarding him. What I expect to see in Game 4 is more 4/5 pick and rolls with hopes that Ibaka or Adams will switch onto Green.3. Bench
So far the X-factor in this series has been the play of the bench. The Thunder bench was better in Games 1 and 3, while the Warriors bench was dominant in Game 2. Dion Waiters has played great in this series and Enes Kanter has been serviceable. You don’t necessarily want Kanter on the floor at the same time as Curry, but you live with him if he is rebounding. The Warriors may have discovered a secret weapon in Ian Clark, especially against Waiters. It will be interesting to see if Clark gets more time from here on out.