The end times are nigh in Golden State.
There is no longer a question over who the better team is this series, the Thunder have won three of the first four games in blowout fashion. They have effectively countered Golden State's clockwork like offense with a terrifying mix of size and athleticism. For instance, when the Thunder go to their small lineup they still have two seven footers on the floor. Playing offense against this team is like trying to navigate through a forest of really angry trees.
What's been most impressive about the Thunder is how they've turned up the aggression on defense. When Kevin Durant is roaming around and blocking shots like a death merchant on defense what else can you do but throw your hands up and pray. Every offensive possession for the Warriors feels like pulling teeth, I mean just look at how hard Stephen Curry has to work to get open in this series.
So what do the Warriors need to do to get back into this series?
- Draymond Green has to play better... A lot better. We've all spent a lot of time this year talking up Draymond Green as the engine that drives this team, well the engine is in serious need of repair. When Green has not been kicking Steven Adams in the groin, he's mostly been ineffective - whether it be playing subpar defense (a statement I never thought I'd have to say about him) or shooting 2-for-16 with 10 turnovers - the last two games have been an absolute bloodbath.
- Steph Curry can not guard Russell Westbrook for 40 minutes and be expected to play like himself on offense. Playing good D on Westbrook is trying to keep up with a cheetah on the Serengeti. People have been asking if Curry is hurt and he has insisted that he is physically fine, but you can't tell me the guy isn't fatigued. Steph has given it the old college try, but Russell is borderline unguardable right now, he has 67 combined points and triple doubles in the last couple of games. At this point I think you have to play Thompson, who is a better defender on Westbrook, to free up Curry on offense.
- Scrap the death lineup. It's just not working against a Thunder team that has super athletic seven footers who can switch on the Warriors guards and block three point shots. When Golden State plays small they concede that they are going to give up rebounds in order to speed up the pace of the game, cause turnovers and get open shots. Well the opposite has been true against OKC. Players like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant love it when the Warriors play small because it means that there is no big man waiting for them when they drive to the rim. They are built to play fast, and the Warriors have not played a team that they can not keep up with, which has led to the these last couple of games being blowouts.
If they want to win this series the Warriors have to play in the half court. They have to play slower than they have played all year, work the offense and grind out possessions. If there is a weakness with this Thunder team its that they can become stagnant in their half court sets. The best way to take advantage of this is to make shots on your end, and play better transition defense.
I think we are also going to see a lot more out of Bogut and Ezeli than we have this series. The two big men can set screens and block shots, and match up a lot better against the likes of Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka than Draymond. The Warriors have been getting bullied in the post all series, perhaps it's time they start doing some bullying of their own.
One more note about Golden State. If I'm Stephen Curry there is absolutely no way that I'm going down without shooting at least 30 shots in these games. There has been way too many possessions in which guys like Harrison Barnes or Shaun Livingston are taking bad shots for Golden State. Any shot that Curry takes is a better shot than the looks that his teammates are getting. The Thunder have made life really hard on Curry, but when you are the MVP that is just how life is going to be in these championship rounds. What's the worse that can happen if Curry becomes a bit of a ball hog? They are already getting blown out in these games.
A lot could happen tonight that would not surprise me. The Thunder could come out and just blow Golden State out of the water. I've never seen Westbrook and Durant play with this much hunger at the same time, and when they are at the top of their games at the same time there is no team on this planet that can stop them. The Warriors are a great team that is fully capable of making some adjustments and fighting their way back into this series.
This all makes me wonder how different the league would be right now if Durant would have been healthy last year. How much less would we be talking about small ball if this series would have gone the same way in 2015? It turns out that the answer to teams playing smaller and hitting three's is to build a lineup full of seven footers who can hit threes. The Thunder are giving us a glimpse of a terrifying NBA future in which rosters are full of seven footers who have sick crossovers and impossible range. I for one welcome our giant, hoop playing overlords.
I'm not sure that last year's Thunder team could have beaten last year's Warriors. Steven Adams has really figured out his game this year and is on his way to a max deal the next time his contract his up. His defense and rebounding has been the cornerstone of everything OKC has been able to achieve in these playoffs. Head Coach, Billy Donovan has made some really brilliant moves in this series like playing Andre Robertson at power forward as a way to negate his bad shooting. This is the kind of subtle lineup change that I don't think Scott Brooks was capable of making. This team is peaking at the absolute right time, and if they can win tonight and get back to the Finals they will have shocked the world.