The Oklahoma City Thunder currently lead the Golden State Warriors 3-1 after another blowout win Tuesday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Maybe the way the Thunder took care of the San Antonio Spurs in the previous round makes this slightly less surprising, but it is a massive shock nonetheless.
The odds were stacked against OKC – the Warriors had a historically great regular-season record, are defending NBA champions, have arguably the best player in the sport today, et al. Bookmakers and most of the casual public gave the Thunder little chance in the series.
So how does head coach Billy Donovan have his side steamrolling the mighty Golden State?
There’s a multitude of factors in terms of basketball tactics, but let’s not ignore one glaring point: Steph Curry is not 100%. Whether it is his movement, his shots (even layups) not falling, it’s clear that Curry’s sprained MCL from the first-round triumph over the Houston Rockets is still bothering him. GSW certainly have three premier players with Draymond Green and Klay Thompson both unanimously considered All-Stars, but the league MVP Curry is the heartbeat of that team, their talismanic figure running the show. If he is not right, the Warriors are going to struggle, and it makes defending much easier for the Thunder.
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) May 25, 2016
However, let’s give credit where credit is due. Billy Donovan’s men have shown a fight, tenacity and intensity level that has been unmatched. If you look at the four teams left in the playoffs and ask yourself who wants it most, the only logical answer you can give is the Thunder. The hustle they are putting in is singlehandedly causing the Warriors all sorts of nightmares.
What became a popular 15-20 second clip in highlight shows last night was one instance where the camera zoomed in on Curry trying to get open, which he found impossible to do as he was hounded by two or three Thunder players.
Speaking of coach Donovan, you have to give him a huge amount of respect for what he has been able to do with this team. Basketball is one of the sports where coaching is sometimes overlooked, and especially with two of the top five NBA players in one team for OKC, there is always the ‘whose team is it?’ question that can be asked. But make no mistake, the intensity and togetherness that has been shown by the Thunder can largely be put on the shoulders of Donovan, and you have to think all of his years in Gainesville coaching a perennial title contender at the University of Florida might have him ready for this coaching task.
So the Thunder are playing relentless defense. What else? Well to start off with, the Thunder have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on their team. These are two of the five best basketball players in the world on the court at the same time. The Warriors were never really known for their stifling defense, and it’s showing. They have yet to come up with an answer for Oklahoma City’s dynamic duo. The Thunder have scored over 70 points in the past two first halves – an astonishing tally.
When ‘KD’ and ‘Bestbrook’ are firing, the Thunder are always live opponents. However, the Thunder also have their supporting cast stepping up at the right time.
Basketball fans have never seen Steven Adams scoring, rebounding and throwing baseball pass assists like this; he’s been the dominant big man. Dion Waiters has turned into a shutdown defender that contributes greatly on offense. Andre Roberson, thought to be in the team for his defensive capabilities and often left alone by the Warriors on Thunder offensive sequences, is hitting most of the open looks he gets – and the OKC Andre is playing better defense than the GSW Andre [Iguadola], last year’s Finals MVP. Enes Kanter provides spark off the bench. Serge Ibaka seems to be back. We can go on.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) May 26, 2016
The Thunder have collectively stepped up and are even beating the Warriors at their own game. The small ball lineup that GSW made famous last season is being dominated by the Thunder small ball lineup, and the Warriors just don’t have any answers.
Game 5 is back at the Oracle Arena, and Golden State will play with newfound fire as they face elimination. Unfortunately for them, unless they figure out a way to beat the Thunder’s intensity, team depth, superstars, and collective superiority, there will be no repeat Western conference championship for the Warriors.