The Oklahoma City Thunder failed to make the playoffs last year, torpedoed by an injury to superstar Kevin Durant. Now, they face a strong championship defense in Golden State, who have come back from a 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals. I’m going to preview the much-anticipated finale to this series for each team, touching on what each squad can do to return to the Finals against LeBron James’ Cavaliers.
OKC’s keys to the game
The Thunder are going to have to pick and choose their spots in order to win this series. In game 6 they shot a combined 13% from 3, KD shot a cumulative 10/31 and Westbrook shot 10/27. Does this indicate that OKC may be owed a great shooting night? Perhaps, but it will have to come from role players as well as Durant and Westbrook. Serge Ibaka, Anthony Morrow, Dion Waiters, and Andre Roberson will have to adjust their game to play alongside one of their two stars and to spot up when a play breaks down. OKC’s top two played lineups are a rotation of KD, Westbrook, Roberson, Ibaka, and one of Steven Adams/Dion Waiters. Adams has been playing hard-nosed basketball in the past two games, so as long as he grabs his usual rebounds and stays out of foul trouble, OKC’s starting rotation should whir along, but as soon as Waiters comes in, we’ll have to see more of this:
and less of ISO Dion. Once Roberson comes out of the game, OKC regains its length advantage, so Dion shooting doesn’t usually hurt the score much, but when the Thunder go to their smaller lineups, Waiters has to adjust his game and his mindset.
Aditionally, Serge Ibaka will have to be an important part of the offense if the Thunder want to win tonight, and his added 3-point range this year gives him the ability to provide a double-double in points and rebounds when battling against Warriors like Bogut, Green, Barnes, and Iguodala on the block. Despite his skills, Ibaka hasn’t gotten 10 rebounds over the past 3 games, and has been just shy of that target. For OKC to win convincingly and make it through the Finals, Ibaka will have to get more rebounds without hampering the play of Andre Roberson, who has been a beast on the boards as of late, with great rebounding performances for a guard and a solid 12 rebounds.
Unfortunately, the Thunder love to isolate in the hands of relatively unreliable players like Waiters and Morrow- at least, they did during the regular season, and this really hurts their offense and defense, because one player usually can’t run back in time to stop the fastbreak. Being patient without slowing the game down too much will be the key to getting Oklahoma City’s role players engaged and contributing.
Passing will be key in the case of a Thunder victory tonight. Russell Westbrook has bought into this idea throughout the playoffs, and his numbers speak for themselves, though he still has lapses on the other end.
He also has to stay consistent and cool when playing the quarterback, because the 4 turnovers he had in the last 1:30 of the last game just won’t do on a championship caliber team. I’m sure he’s been drilling it into his teammates’ heads that they can’t have possessions like this one.
Fazal brought this up during our first Reunion Lights Podcast- the 2014 Spurs series saw KD struggling when his team needed his production the most. Kevin is a great player
but he needs to know when shooting a high volume of shots will not help him. In the case that Durant comes out shooting less than 33% from the floor as he did in Game 6, It would be smart to use his effect on the Golden State defense to his advantage. This is where Morrow, Ibaka, or Waiters can spot up and make Golden state pay on that end.
On defense, Durant will have to make consistent adjustments, especially in the late game, to prevent things like this
GSW’s keys to the game
Golden State just doesn’t have the length or the bigs in their death lineup in order to outrebound OKC on paper. This means that if GS can box out and force Adams/Ibaka/Kanter to really work for rebounds this game, they have a great chance of making it out of the West.
If they keep the rebound battle close, the game will probably result in a Warrior win. Though, moments like this one:
may cost Golden State the series.
Don’t let Harrison Barnes hold onto the ball for more than 6 seconds unless he has a height advantage in the post. Barnes just hasn’t shown the ability to sustain his offensive game. His counterpart in Finals MVP Andre Iguodala consistently outplays him and has a much broader affect on both ends of the floor
Plus, we don’t see Andre fouling superstars past the three point line at the end of close games like we do Harrison.