Western Conference Finals Preview | GSW (73-9) vs. OKC (55-27)
This should probably be the most entertaining series of the playoffs as the record setting 73-9 Warriors face off with the 55-27 Oklahoma City Thunder. These franchises have faced off in the playoffs twice before with each taking a series apiece. The last time was in 1992 when I was five years old and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren’t old enough to attend Kindergarten. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way and I made myself feel old as hell, here are some things to watch for in the series.
· Steph Curry gave OKC the same kind of issues he gave the rest of the league in their three regular season meetings. On Feb. 6, he scored or assisted on 50 points. He totaled 26 points and 10 assists. On Feb. 27, he made the game winning three-pointer in overtime, finishing with 46 points. He tied the NBA record with 12 3-pointers. Specifically on n March 3, 11 of his 33 points came in the final 4:30, when he singlehandedly outscored the Thunder whose fourth quarter issues have been well documented. All in all, Curry averaged 35 PPG against OKC, which was the most of any player in the league this season.
· The aforementioned fourth quarter/crunch time issues for the Thunder played a part in each game between the two teams. The Thunder were tied or led in the fourth quarter in all three games against the Warriors this season. In the first meeting, the score was tied with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter before the Warriors closed the game on a 12-4 run. In the second game, the Thunder led by 11 with 4:51 left in the fourth quarter and led by five in overtime. The Thunder entered the fourth quarter of their last game leading by one before being outscored 39-23 in the period by a red hot Warriors team.
· Russell Westbrook struggled mightily against the Warriors this season. He averaged 25 PPG but shot 34.7% from the field and 16.7% from 3. Curry and SG Klay Thompson helped hold Westbrook to 7 for 33 on pull-up jumpers and drive opportunities. To do my best Magic Johnson impersonation, “The Thunder can’t win this series if Westbrook plays like this!!!!”
· While Westbrook struggled, Kevin Durant torched GSW as he averaged 32 PPG on 52.9% from the field and 47.6 from 3. The Warriors have no answers for Durant and that much is clear but I think Iguodala can at least bother him in stretches. Iguodala’s defensive rating for the two full games he played against the Thunder was 93. This seems like a great time for him to take the majority of Harrison Barnes minutes since, well, Barnes doesn’t provide much anyway.
· PF/SF/do everything guy Draymond Green’s defensive rating in the three matchups was 101. I think the ‘death lineup’ setup with Green at the 5 will see a lot of run especially given OKC’s newfound affinity for using C Steven Adams and C Enes Kanter together. While I admittedly never thought that would work it did in the Spurs series and Kanter has been the most effective pick and roll defender in the playoffs by PPP (excuse me while I pass out from shock). Now, there is a difference between what the Spurs have to offer in that regard and Stephen Curry and company whipping the ball around. It will be interesting to see the chess match here and how both teams adjust to each other.
· I don’t know how much time Marreese Speights will get for the Warriors in this series but he was very effective in his time in the regular season meetings. He played 41 minutes and scored 33 points on 14-23 from the field (3-4 from 3). We’ll see how many minutes he gets but OKC had no answers for him.
· I think the length of this series depends on Steve Kerr and the kind of hook he has on Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes. Bogut consistently gets eviscerated by Steven Adams and was dreadful against OKC this season. He had 12 rebounds in 63 minutes against them this year and his net rating kind of speaks to his impact or lack thereof for GSW. In the first meeting his net rating was -22.9.In the second meeting his net rating was -40.8(!!!) and in the final meeting it was 6.4.
· Golden State is clearly the better team and if Steve Kerr makes quicker adjustments than he usually does the series could be over in five games. I do think he leans on Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes too much early before realizing that Bogut is best served in the spectator role he played the majority of last year’s Finals and that Iguodala needs to play more. Kerr did a lot of goofy things with his rotations in the first two series (i.e.: having Curry and Klay Thompson off the court at the same time) that he probably can’t get away with given that the talent gap between these two teams is fairly narrow.
Prediction: This series ends up being better than the ECF!!! (More Magic Johnson analysis), and GS wins in an exciting six games. Buckle up!