The path to the NBA Finals was changed for the Golden State Warriors, who expected to meet a team the Oklahoma City Thunder beat in the previous round.
The conference finals finally begin, as the Warriors head into the series after five days of rest following their 4-1 win against the Portland Trail Blazers in the conference semifinals. It was much closer than that, but the bottom line? The Warriors have gone through two series and lost just two games. Stephen Curry missed some of them, and yet it didn’t make much of a difference, and it seems that whatever injury bothered him, it’s no longer a factor.
The Thunder beat the Spurs in six games in the conference semifinals, something that is considered quite the upset. However, the Spurs-Thunder series wasn’t as close in some ways as the one between the Warriors and the Blazers. The Thunder, besides the dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, figured out how to slow down the Spurs and completely take them out of their offensive rhythm. They got offensive production from unlikely players, and finally got the defensive presence of Steven Adams to emerge into a game and series changer, besides some help from the officials. It might not come their way in this series, although the Warriors have seen referees suddenly (finally) take note of their moving screens and call them, although like everything with NBA officiating, it’s been extremely inconsistent.
So how do the Thunder beat the Warriors? They’ve failed in doing so three times this season, although they made a very close game of it in two of them. The saying that the regular season has nothing to do with the playoffs is often true in some aspects, but the Warriors are as good as advertised, and every advantage they seemed to have over teams during the regular season is staying with them in the postseason, even more so than last year.
As the Thunder said, they’re not going to try and make this into a three-point shooting contest. Like their series against the Spurs, changing the Warriors play on offense holds the key to giving them a chance. It means Russell Westbrook has to be focused and not get frustrated by the multiple screens the Warriors run. Durant, who has his lapses in concentration also, can’t get caught with his foot in cement and get lazy chasing runners. Adams needs to be as mobile and smart as he was in the series against the Spurs.
Billy Donovan actually outcoached Gregg Popovich in some of the games against San Antonio, and while out coaching could be a bit of an exaggerative term, the quickness in which Donovan will react to lineup changes by the Warriors and especially their efforts to switch from traditional lineups to small ball will be another issue. As we’ve seen in all of their wins in this postseason so far, the Warriors only need a few minutes of their opponent letting their guard down to take over a game and never let it slip away.