The matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors is set to become one of the best Conference Finals in recent memory. The main reason for the immense excitement in this matchup, compared to the Eastern Conference Finals, is the talent on both sides. Obviously, the Warriors will be favored due to their regular season success, past achievements, including the 2015 World Championship, and combination of star power and depth on the bench. Although the Warriors have the best regular season record in the history of the NBA and have shown very little weaknesses during their first two series, analysts believe that the Thunder have a legitimate chance to upend the champs because of the combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Russell Westbrook vs. Stephen Curry
Although there will be other great matchups such as Kevin Durant vs Andre Iguodala, Steven Adams vs Andrew Bogut, and Draymond Green vs Serge Ibaka, the obvious matchup to watch is the two point guards. Many people wanted the Thunder to play the Warriors because the two most exciting players in the world are Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook. While Curry is the greatest shooter the game has ever seen, Russell Westbrook does not have nearly the same shooting ability as Curry, but he is likely the greatest athlete to play the point guard position. During the regular season games against Golden State, Westbrook was incredibly inefficient as he shot only 35% from the field and 17% from three, although he still managed 25 points and 11 assists. In addition to his poor shooting, his befuddling basketball decisions down the stretch of each game were the reasons why the Thunder went 0-3 against the Warriors. Over the last four games against the Spurs, Westbrook displayed a different demeanor and patience, which allowed him and the Thunder to play the best basketball of the year. Instead of folding in the 4th quarter, the Thunder thrived and outpaced the Spurs. While Westbrook’s performance against the Warriors has been suspect, Curry has thrived against the toughest competition by averaging 35 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. In addition to his statistical dominance, his end of game performance gave the Dubs the advantage over the Thunder. Although he has dealth with injuries throughout the playoffs, we should not expect any less from the two time MVP. Ultimately, both players are going to average video game type numbers throughout the series, but it is the player that excels during the last five minutes of the game that will win the matchup and probably the series.
Toughest Coaching Decisions
Thunder’s Big Lineup vs Warriors’ Small Lineup
The Thunder’s “Big Lineup” consists of Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kevin Durant, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams. During the series against the Spurs, this lineup was extremely successful because of their size, athleticism, and length. Their physical attributes allowed them to dominate the boards and provide extra possessions for the offense. This lineup is a great rebounding team because they have 3 players at least 6’10” and Russell Westbrook is one of the best rebounding guards in the past decade. As demonstrated by the Warriors’ last season, length is a valuable trait for defense because it allows players to intercept the passing lanes and contest shots. The Thunder have the opportunity to disrupt the Warriors’ seemingly indefensible small lineup by forcing them to adjust. When the Warriors go to their “Small Lineup” of Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Green, and either Iguodala or Livingston, Green is the only “big” even though he does not have the size to bang with Kanter, Adams, and Durant. However, although Green does not have the size or strength, he is the hardest working player on the court and uses his technique to box out opponents and protect the rim. While using a big lineup seems like the method to defeat the Warriors, no team has been able to demonstrate an ability to go big while protecting the three point arc. Although Adams and Kanter can rebound effectively, they must show that they can stop Green, Livingston, and Iguodala from shooting effectively from three and handling a ball from the top of the arc. Even though the Thunder were able to out rebound the Warriors during each of their three contests, including their Feb. 27 matchup in which they out rebounded them by 30, they lost all three of the games because they could not defend the Warriors’ three point shooting, speed, or passing ability.
Warriors in 7
The Warriors have been the head and shoulders best team in the entire league over the past two seasons and they will continue their dominance this series. The Warriors have been the best team because they have the best player in the league, the best chemistry, and the best bench. Although Russell Westbrook is a fabulous defensive player, neither he nor the Thunder has shown an ability to depend Steph Curry. Besides for scoring 30+ points on 50% shooting, Curry is the best playmaker in the game and will find the open player when he faces a double team. In addition, he has displayed a killer instinct, which allows him to hit threes during the most dire and important situations of the game. Unlike the Thunder, who have not displayed an ability to consistently close out opponents down the stretch, the Warriors know that Curry will either take the shot or make the correct play for his team. The Warriors are the most successful team and will defeat the Thunder because their bench is extraordinary deep. The combination of Livingston, Ezeli, Bogut, Barbosa, and even Speights has taken advantage of opposing benches because they are intelligent players with experience and a strong desire to win. Spectators should expect a great series as they will be witnessing 3 of the best 5 players and 5 of the best 15 players in the game on one court for a long series.