The Series Shifts in OKC (again)

“I see him more than I see my family, and vice versa.  It’s a special bond we have and we continue to keep growing as players.”

Kevin Durant on Russel Westbrook

Divider

Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) sits on the court following a foul against his team during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, May 16, 2016. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green (23) sits on the court following a foul against his team during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, May 16, 2016. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

All things considered, the Thunder did what they were supposed to do: they came into Oracle Arena and took Game 1 on the home floor of the defending champion Warriors.

The Warriors came out in Game 2 and did what they were supposed to do, leaving the series at 1-1 as the scene shifted back to Oklahoma City.

Both games were extremely odd to both watch and analyze. The Thunder somehow won Game 1 with their two biggest stars combining for 17-51 in the game. Westbrook missed nine of his first 10 shots to start the game before exploding for 19 points in the third quarter to put imprint on game one.

The Warriors just didn’t shoot much better as a team, scoring just 42 second half points and 14 in the fourth – both season lows.  That oddity spells trouble for any team, but when the defending champions do it, it’s eye-opening.

Credit has to be given to the Thunder and Head Coach Billy Donovan for dialing up his team’s minutes with the right rotations and schemes on the floor, taking Game One. However, he looked in over his head during game two, as the Warriors showcased their resiliency and dominance.

The Warriors haven’t lost two games in a row all season, winning their bounce back game by an average of 15 points. While they haven’t lost much this year (in record-setting fashion, I should add), that feat has never been accomplished and will be a focal point from here on out.

rts8bvu_leadGame 2 displayed just how Nuclear the unanimous MVP can go, as he exploded in little over two minutes in the 3rd quarter to put the game out of reach.  Stephen Curry exploded for 15 straight points, knocking down his usual tough shots from beyond the arc as he stares down opponents, fans, and just about whoever he wants to while the ball majestically flew into the net.  Curry does things that you only dream about doing in the video-game world of 2K: most of his shots are soul snatchers as they drop, especially with defenders of all sizes trying to clutter his airspace prior to getting anything off.

The first two games of the series were a bit quirky, with the third quarter featuring an explosion of scoring to give one team or the other the momentum to win the game.  With the Warriors seemingly catching their groove, the Thunder will have to rise to the occasion on their home court. Last time the Warriors played in OKC, we were gifted with game of the year. The best shooter in the world dropped in a cool 37-foot three to win the game in overtime, high-lighting the struggles of OKC down the stretch.

The Thunder have the talent to beat anyone. When Westbrook and Durant are at their best, they can take on an entire defense on their own and succeed. Asking them to routinely do that against quality teams in the clutch, however, is not the best game plan. Yet because of the way the organization built its roster and empowered the stars while marginalizing role players, that’s exactly what they must do. It’s no wonder they so often come up short.
Jesus Gomez, There’s a reason the Thunder keep falling apart in crunch time, and it’s not their coach

 

A huge part to the struggles of OKC is how they are being defended in the half court, most notably in regards to Andre Roberson. Roberson’s play is reminiscent to former Thunder defensive savant, Thabo Sefalosha.  Both players are unquestionably talented on defense, but lack offensive skill, hindering the Thunder’s half-court sets.

The Warriors have disrespected Roberson, not even guarding him in the half court. Billy Donovan has done a masterful job of helping the confidence of both Roberson and former top five pick Dion Waiters. These two players are ultra important to the success of the Thunder, as it was on full display during their dismantling of the Warriors in Game Three.

mostars2

A few short months ago, Waiters was the laughing-stock of the Thunder, and rightfully so.  He looked like the Monstars took his talent, and while the Thunder stumbled out of the All-Star break playing their worst basketball, Waiters was playing even worse than his team.  Waiters came full circle though, as the Philly native broke out of his slump in a huge way as soon as the playoffs began. His mega-star teammates have supported him throughout his slump, urging him to keep shooting and keep playing. Managing the offense and playing stellar defense is something that is going unnoticed with Waiters. However, after a roof-raising dunk in Game Three, the world is sure to notice Waiters has arrived:

At halftime the Thunder attempted 25 free throws, a testament to their constant aggression. The Warriors didn’t look ready to handle the aggression; they looked like that soft jump-shooting team of years ago.

OKC made the Warriors look like the team many thought they were three years ago. They made them look like a group of jump shooters with no heart or fire to play, a soft gimmick of a team. If the jump-shots aren’t falling they are easy to beat, however those statements have not been true since.  They aren’t, however, the same team as last year by any stretch of the imagination; after all they are the defending NBA Champions who have been down 2-1 before. The Warriors haven’t lost two games in a row yet, but something about this feels different.

20374897-mmmainThis doesn’t feel like the Warriors can just hit the ‘Curry’ button.  Curry got hot in Game 3, going for 15 in the 3rd; in response, the Thunder went on a monster run, spanning almost a 50-19 spread after it was tied up at 40, midway through the second quarter. After a controversial kick from Draymond Green, the Thunder struck and struck hard.

Curry tried to will his team back but it was over by halftime – everyone knew it, especially the Warriors.  They say each game in a series is its own series: luckily for the Warriors they have the mental fortitude to bounce back. In order for them to regain momentum in the series, they have to get more ball movement; but, most importantly, Curry needs to be the best player on the court every single minute he plays.  The Warriors can win close games on the hero ball of Curry, and aren’t easily swayed by pressure.

But, shockingly, the Thunder look poised to continue their stellar play in hopes of going up 3-1 on their home floor.

By Allen Yates