Saturday 16 December 2017 / 06:53 AM

THUNDER v WARRIORS: WHAT WE KNOW AHEAD OF GAME 3

When the final buzzer sounded in Game 1 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors, we were left with a lot of strange answers to weird questions that never even occurred to us in the playoffs before this round.

The startling upset OKC pulled off, inside Oracle Arena no less, left the NBA world questioning the strength of the Warriors, and to a larger degree the chemistry and play of the Thunder. Analysts had warned heading into the series that the Thunder were good enough to challenge the Warriors, but they did a step better, dominating the series opener and upsetting the defending champs right off the bat.

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, lightning rods for criticism, played the game they knew in Game 1, picking up right where they left off in their series against the Spurs.

Westbrook looked like the star in the series, limiting Steph Curry to a rough shooting night and carrying the Thunder on offense. Andre Roberson and the Thunder role players stepped up as well, using Steven Adams and Enes Kanter to gain a big advantage in the paint, and forcing Golden State into an uncomfortable offensive set.

Heading into Game 2, the NBA world wondered if the Thunder were the team that had cracked the Warriors’ code, and if the clock had run out on Golden State’s improbable run.

And then Game 2 happened, and the Warriors found their shot. Golden State returned to form, ignited by Steph Curry, to pace the Warriors past the Thunder. The Thunder looked listless, running in circles to contain the Warriors on the perimeter. Now it seemed as if the Thunder had benefited from a poor shooting performance from Golden State the game before, instead of a strong defensive outing. Westbrook struggled to get it together, and Durant had a rough night.

Steph Curry returned to MVP form, scoring a scorching 15 points in just under two minutes to ignite Golden State, and they never looked back. Westbrook and Durant struggled in communication, and Westbrook just couldn’t get a consistent shot from the field. The result was a flip of the first game, where Westbrook carried a struggling Durant.

So two games in, with a series knotted up, what do we know now that we didn’t before?

Westbrook and Durant still seem to be struggling to get on the same page throughout a whole game – we have rarely seen in these playoffs the two of them having a good game together. We’ve learned Golden State’s focus as well: allowing Durant and Westbrook to play how they want, and own the show. Head coach Steve Kerr and Warriors players have been open about the strategy to just allow the other players to have what they will, and focus in on Westbrook and Durant. Even after the Game 1 loss, Golden State kept the same strategy, cheating off players like Adams, Ibaka and Roberson on offense to double (and sometimes triple) Durant and Westbrook.

Draymond Green acknowledged the strategy after Game 1, saying “We’re after Durant and (Russell). If Andre (Roberson) hits, then we’ll live with that.”  In Game 1, he did. But the tables turned in Game 2, with the Thunder role players mostly struggling to maintain the level they showed in the first clash.

On the Golden State front, the Warriors looked susceptible in Game 1, but those fears were quieted in Game 2 for the most part. The Warriors do have a spacing issue in their lineups that they go up against the Kanter-Adams lineup for OKC. In fact, that lineup for OKC, Westbrook-Roberson-Durant-Adams-Kanter, has caused fits for Golden State so far in this series. But Billy Donovan didn’t use it in game two until it was out of reach.

Steph Curry is still Steph Curry, and he returned to form in Game 2. But the key for Golden State is the play of the supporting cast, as the Warriors got double-digit contributions from six other players not named Curry in Game 2.

Oklahoma City is a different team at home, particularly on the defensive end, where they tend to play with more intensity and are a full point per possession better on that end. They’re going to have to be much better than in Game 2, but the Thunder have already superseded expectations by winning an away game. Defending home court becomes a big thing for OKC, but they have wiggle room with the series knotted at one apiece.

But as good as Golden State is – and showed in game two – this series depends on the play of Oklahoma City.

But the only real solid takeaway from these two games is the surprising revelation that the Thunder aren’t going to win with the efforts of Durant and Westbrook together. The two just simply can’t be counted on to play a full game in unison.

Instead, the Thunder are going to need repeats of Game 1: a larger lineup, pressing defense, and big contributions from one of the pair and the supporting cast.

The supporting cast around Durant and Westbrook will make or break this series, particularly on the glass and their shots. Limiting Golden State to just one shot is a must, and so is hitting the open shots when they get them. Draymond Green said that they “can have that” after Game 1, and if their going to have a better chance, they better take it.

[YouTube – NBA]

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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