After what might go down as a historic game 6, the Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to pick up the pieces of their fragmented confidence and win the deciding game 7, on the road, against the defending NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors.
Two players stood out for the Warriors win against the Thunder in game 6, a win that many seem to think is going to put the Warriors in the NBA finals. A sucker punch to the Thunder’s ego and confidence, orchestrated by Andre Iguodala with his crunch time defense, and Klay Thompson, by showing his shooting ability in a game that might be defined as one of the biggest letdowns for a challenger in the last 15 years.
But the two players who stood out for Oklahoma City probably matter more, heading into game 7, trying to shake off the finals slipping away from their fingers. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook blew it. And if we got used to Westbrook suddenly shutting off and becoming “mistake man” in crunch time, it was a bit surprising from Durant, who missed, turned the ball over and generally made awful decisions. The Thunder went into stagnation mode in the final possessions, making it easier for the Warriors to predict the flow of the offense, and stop them.
So game 7 is about mental as much as it is about basketball. The Warriors have adapted. So Stephen Curry isn’t getting along with the Thunder’s defense? So Draymond Green isn’t as effective against the Thunder’s length and size? The Warriors keep finding answers, and with two wins in a row, it looks like their confidence can’t be broken. Their basketball might not be perfect in matching up with Oklahoma City, but their intelligent and resourceful players keep coming up with answers.
The Thunder recovering? Certainly possible. They looked good in two of the three games in Oakland in this series, winning one of them too. It’ll come down to being able to stay focused in the final minutes, and not make the same mistakes from the previous game. It still might not be enough, but before the ramifications of losing to the Warriors and blowing a 3-1 lead kick in, Billy Donovan needs to try and get his players to play the right basketball for 48 minutes. It feels that if the Thunder do that, the Warriors won’t have an answer. The problem is that losing their series lead might have been too much of a blow already.
At the end of the rainbow are the resting (and maybe a bit rusty when the series finally begins), Cleveland Cavaliers. Who do they prefer? From their regular season record over the last two years, obviously the Thunder. But maybe these Warriors aren’t the same ones from last year. This certainly isn’t the same Cleveland team from 2015. And yet, you might find one or five Cavs players crossing their fingers for a Thunder upset, thinking it means a better shot at winning the NBA title.