3 Reasons Why the Thunder Will Win the West by Eric Knifong
The Thunder were not supposed to be here. All season the West was going to feature the 73 win Warriors and the 67 win Spurs, rightfully so, but the Thunder had different ideas. Sure they only won a measly 55 games and were not breaking records like the Spurs and Warriors but they were doing something neither of those teams were – throwing out two of the top five players in the entire league all season long. That is why they are standing four wins away from their second Finals appearance. But they have a tough task in front of them. The Warriors are here for a reason and are the big favorites with a 77.4% chance to win this series and advance to their second straight Finals appearance. The Warriors swept the season series, but the Thunder had the lead or were tied in all three fourth quarters. We know the Thunder had a problem of blowing fourth quarter leads all regular season. However, they are playing at a different level right now and should provide the most exciting Western Conference Finals that we could have seen. These two teams gave us the best game of the season when Steph Curry sunk the hearts of OKC fans from 35 feet out. Let’s take a look at it one more time…
That was a game that went to overtime and the Thunder were without KD in those final five minutes. This series has greatness written all over it and I’ll give you my three reasons why the Thunder will win four games before the Warriors do.
- KD & Russ
This is obvious. The Thunder go as far as these two superstars take them. Durant leads the league in scoring in the playoffs at 27.4 points per game, but the Thunder will need Westbrook to have a bigger series than Durant. Westbrook is the engine of this team, as his heart and will to attack, attack, attack could put the most pressure on the Warriors. After game three against the Spurs which saw Russ take 31 shots, he has become more focused on getting his teammates involved while knowing he can get his whenever he wants. This should continue through this series and put pressure on the Golden State defense. Westbrook leads the playoffs in assists per game with 10.8 and win shares at 1.94. How he is playing will be vital. We know Durant will get his like he did during the regular season against the Warriors. Westbrook has to let his competitive nature be more team based and not match up based. Russ cannot try to shoot shot for shot with Curry and continue to involve all of his teammates.
- The Others
The others are going to have to keep stepping up to allow Westbrook and Durant to continue to trust them. KD and Russ have had some problems in the past of not trusting their teammates, but the way some of these guys have stepped up in the playoffs should keep that trust even if they have a bad game. The most obvious of those others stepping up are Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. Both of these guys have averaged over 16 boards a game combined. They have also played good defense so far which is a pleasant surprise when talking about Kanter. A lot of people don’t feel they will be able to play much in this series and in crunch time like they did against the Spurs, but I think there is a chance. If they continue to pound the boards and contest shots then they should play a lot. If the Warriors are not getting open shots repeatedly then Adams and Kanter
could limit them to one shot per trip which would be huge for the Thunder. However, if they are unable to close out on shots and defend then that pressure will focus on Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was at one time a top 25-30 player in the league, but he has not been playing like it this season. He needs to protect the paint, make his 18 foot jumpers and be the enforcer he has been known to be. It seems like a lot to ask, but Ibaka has proved that he is capable. They chose him over Harden and here’s his chance to prove they made the right decision.
A couple of wings will be called on this series too. One has been playing exceptionally well for his standards and the other has not played much in the playoffs. Those players are Dion Waiters and Anthony Morrow. Waiters has been playing excellent basketball this postseason. He seems to really want this, and knows this team can win it all. He rarely lacks confidence, but it seems to have jumped to another level through 11 games in these playoffs. Waiters shot the ball at 36% from three and 40% from the field in the regular season for an average of 10 points per game. In these playoffs, Waiters is shooting the ball at 41% from three and 46% overall for the same average of points. He has been efficient and playing hard on the defensive end. He seems to have finally found what role he needs to take on this team. He even ran some point late in games against the Spurs. He will need to continue to play this way against Golden State and take some pressure off Durant and Westbrook on the perimeter. Morrow is one of the best three point shooters on this team, but has not seen much playing time because of his defense. However, his shooting could be pivotal in this series and should see his 5.4 minutes per game rise to around 10 and we should not see a third DNP.
Billy Donovan seemed in over his head in his first season as an NBA coach, but it looks like he has finally hit the ground running. It could even be argued that he pushed all the right buttons against the Spurs and outcoached Popovich the last three games of the series. One of the biggest things in this series against the Warriors will be of the same nature, who can dictate the lineups. Whether Steve Kerr and the Warriors can continue to play the “lineup of death” or if Donovan can continue to play his bigs to rebound the ball. The Thunder were able to rebound at a high rate against the Warriors (especially on the offensive end) this season and giving Westbrook and Durant multiple chances could be the x-factor of the series. They have to find a way to keep the Warriors from having open shots if they go small in this situation. It will also be nice if he can draw up a play or two to get Westbrook and Durant an easy shot.
3 Reasons the Warriors will beat the Thunder in the WCF by Segun Giwa
The Warriors take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in one of the most anticipated conference finals in a long time. After making quick work of the Portland Trail Blazers in the semi finals, Golden State must now take on a different animal – one spearheaded by two of the top five players in the league, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The 73 win Warriors are the favorites, but OKC is coming in confident after upsetting the Spurs. Here’s 3 reasons why the Warriors are going to beat the Thunder:
- Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook is one of the top 5 players in the NBA. That being said, he has a reputation for putting up a ton of shots, whether they’re going in or not. In 3 games vs. Golden State this season (all losses, by the way) Westbrook shot 26/75 good for 34.7%. In the 4th quarter and overtime, Westbrook shot 6/26. Klay Thompson will be the primary defender on Westbrook, and his length and lateral quickness has always given Westbrook problems. Look for Westbrook to continue to shoot a low percentage this series.
- Death Lineup
The Warriors’ death lineup is like the finishing maneuver for a WWE wrestler. When this card is pulled, it usually signifies the end of the game. OKC killed the Spurs’ ancient, immobile bigs by using an Enes Kanter/Steven Adams front line. That won’t work against Golden State. OKC is going to have to downsize otherwise their bigs will get ran off the court. There will be 5 shooters on the court meaning Adams or Kanter will be mismatched on a much smaller player. Serge Ibaka has struggled in these playoffs so far, and if he continues to do so Kanter, his replacement, will get eaten alive.
- OKC’s Inability to Close Games
The Thunder have been blowing games all year. If not for the Spurs elementary level offense, the Thunder might have blown their series clinching win in game 6. The Thunder have blown 2 games against the Warriors, including Steph Curry’s game winner at OKC on February 27. You can’t make mistakes down the stretch against the Warriors, because they don’t make any themselves. Westbrook is good for a few “what the f*** is he doing” shots in the 4th this series, and I just don’t trust the Thunder to close games.
Segun: Warriors in 6
Eric: Thunder in 7
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference
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