“So I’ll give ’em something to remember like the Alamo”
- MF DOOM, Rhymes like Dimes
As the dust settled in Oklahoma City, screams and trademark handshakes erupted as the Thunder finished off a thorough beating of the San Antonio Spurs. After a lethargic game one that the Thunder lost by 32 points, the dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook began to impose their will on the series.
The tide turned during the infamous ‘elbow play,’ as Philadelphia native Deon Waiters made headlines by elbowing Manu Ginobili – one of the most bizarre finishes in NBA Playoffs history. The final 8 seconds of the game were critiqued the following day, and the NBA released a report card which detailed five different calls that were missed by the game’s referees:
The end of game inbound foul in #OKCvsSAS was one we’ve never seen before & we missed it. We’ll incorporate this in training moving forward.
— NBA Referees (@OfficialNBARefs) May 3, 2016
The Thunder beat a Spurs team who registered the 7th winningest season in NBA history, registering an eye-popping 67 wins. During the regular season, the Spurs lost just one game all season at home; during the series, they lost two.
The Thunder now turn their focus to the defending champions, fresh off an ungodly 73-9 season; yet, the basketball gods have blessed NBA fans, answering their prayers with a match-up worthy of the seemingly unassailable Warriors. This Golden State-Oklahoma City Western Conference Finals has more talent than either city knows what to do with.
The series features the most explosively athletic point guard the league has ever seen in Russell Westbrook, one of the deadliest scorers ever in Kevin Durant, one of the most versatile players to grace a basketball court in Draymond Green, and the best shooting backcourt of all time in the Splash Brothers – Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry.
The Warriors and Thunder gave us game of the year this season, ending with an unbelievably believable 37-foot game winning three from Stephen Curry:
Curry wrote NBA history this season, culminating with his second straight MVP and the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. Many slighted the high-powered Warriors, even going as far to say that their championship last year was a by-product of an injury riddled NBA rather than the talent of the team. By now, the talent on display is unquestioned.
Creative implementation of line-ups and match-ups will be likely determine who wins the Western Conference Finals. While many are salivating at the thought of Curry and Westbrook going toe to toe, pairing the two defensively won’t be conducive to either team’s success. Instead, cross match-ups will define the series on both ends.
Presumably, Curry and Westbrook will guard each other for small stints, but it isn’t a necessity for either to guard each other throughout the game. Look for elite on-ball defender Andre Roberson to guard Curry, utilizing his length to cloud his the shot window, however small, of Curry. Conversely, Westbrook will likely be given the task of chasing splash brother Klay Thompson around.
The Thunder utilized different lineups and defensive schemes in each game against the Warriors during the regular season. Although they lost all three games, the Thunder held leads in the fourth quarter each time. This was hardly unique: the Thunder led the league in blown fourth quarter leads, a pressing concern for a team with two of the best players in the NBA.
The decisive pairing of the talented young big men, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams, by first year Head Coach Billy Donovan paid dividends against the veteran Spurs. The on-court duo demonstrated the sheer size of the Thunder, as they beat up the Spurs on the glass. Donovan will try to repeat their success by implementing the two big lineup during the series; but the question remains: what will the counter lineup be when the Warriors put their small ball five on the floor?
Who will guard the likes of Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Andre Igoudala when the Warriors go small? If Donovan decides to match small ball with small ball it will be impossible to come out on top. Simply put, no one has been able to “out Warrior the Warriors” on their rampage across the league.
Pay close attention to how Russell Westbrook conducts himself: will Russell Westbrook get out of the way of Durant? Can Westbrook maintain defensive composure and handle the personal battle against Curry for the sake of his team?
The game within the game will be how Westbrook manages the Thunder attack, and if he lets Durant take the reins as he gains momentum, as he did in moments during the Spurs series. In the regular season, Durant dominated the Warriors, shooting almost 50 percent from both the field and deep: if the Thunder want to survive the series, KD will have to be unstoppable.
Curry wrote NBA history this season, culminating with his second straight MVP and the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. Many slighted the high-powered Warriors, even going as far to say that their championship last year was a by-product of an injury riddled NBA rather than the talent of the team.
The doubters are now silent.
With Champagne Curry at the helm, the Warriors are eyeing history with their biggest test yet, as they enter Oracle Arena Monday night as the Western Conference Finals begins.