An OKC Upset Story
*Photo via Getty Images
The Oklahoma City Thunder surprised in a Game 1 road victory to continue their playoff groove. Following three straight wins against the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder remained stubborn in their strategy and continued their frontcourt dominance to extend their streak. While Oklahoma City relied heavily on their big men and athleticism against the Spurs, the latter is paralleled or even superior in a Golden State Warriors team.
Will the Thunder continue this play or succumb to the Warriors small-ball? Billy Donovan answered this question clearly when setting up his team for a second half turnaround in game one.
This means keeping two big men on the floor at all times. When the Warriors play small, OKC take advantage on the boards and interior play. The Thunder continued this strategy in Game 1 and it paid off, holding the Warriors to just 14 fourth quarter points.
*Photo via Getty Images
It is essential that the Thunder continue to beat the Warriors with their own brand. If for no other reason, the Warriors will ruin any team that tries to play their style. They are the best at it, this is why they are the defending champs.
This is why it is particularly important for the Thunder to continue their playoff mantra in this series. OKC does not want to find them in a shootout with Golden State and, equally as important, Russell Westbrook does not want to get himself into a shoot out with Steph Curry, he won’t win and Thunder won’t win if that’s the case.
While the Thunder could push the tempo on an old San Antonio squad, this may not always be the case with the Warriors. The Thunder must push the tempo when it is open and that will be often with arguably the best player in the open court on their side in Westbrook. Yet, if the break doesn’t exist, the Thunder must get the ball to one of their stars and run a set. The more time the Warriors don’t have the ball, the better.
This leads us to a second and most obvious key for the Thunder: Kevin Durant and Westbrook must perform. I believe Durant will get his no matter what. The offense runs through him and he can score at will. Like we saw in Game 1, Durant will take over when the game gets tight or the Thunder is starving for a bucket.
*Photo via USA Today
Yet Westbrook is more of a wildcard, It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just a product of how he plays. Ever since their Game 3 loss to the Spurs when Russell Westbrook shot 32% from the field, he’s consciously changed his game averaging 12 assists. Westbrook should take this balanced approach because he sets the tone for his squad.
Also, Westbrook must be a pest on defense. It is vital he annoys the hell out Steph Curry like we he can do to so many other players. This also means challenging Curry on the offensive side of the ball: tire him out and try to get him into foul trouble. With that being said, Westbrook should avoid getting into a shoot out with Steph Curry, it will not end well.
While the Oklahoma City’s stars are integral to their success, it’s their role players that have breathed renewed life into championship aspirations. Nearly everyone had a Spurs-Warriors Western Conference Finals and then came Steven Adams. Through twelve playoff games, Adams is averaging a double-double including over three more rebounds than his season average. Aside from his rebounding prowess, Steven Adams provides intangibles that don’t show up on the stat sheet, much like his incredible 3 on 1 defense at the end of Game 2 in Antonio.
This type of play can neutralize Golden States x-factor in Draymond Green. Yet this must be a collective effort from Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, and the aforementioned Steven Adams. Without these versatile big men hustling, protecting the paint, and pulling down boards to start fast breaks, the Warriors offensive threat grows tremendously.
*Photo via Yardbarker
The same is true for the Thunder’s bench, in particular Dion Waiters. The Warriors have designed a deep and valuable bench. If Waiters and Cameron Payne can outperform Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala, OKC could neutralize Golden States highly touted depth. Yet, the Warriors play with a far larger rotation, therefore more weight rests on each of OKC’s players.
Individual performance will be incredibly important for the Thunder this series, but their defense, like anyone who faces the first ranked offense, is of paramount importance. Like any functional defense, the Thunder will have to rely on team play, communication, and athleticism to effectively stump or attempt to slow down the high powered Warrior offense. This will be difficult considering their 13th ranked defense.
The stars are out for this series, let's see if they align for the Oklahoma City Thunder.