9:00 PM EST, TNT – Line: Golden State -9, Over/Under: 222
Well, we didn’t see this coming. After pulling a shocking upset of the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Semifinals, the Oklahoma City Thunder stormed into ORACLE Arena and stole Game One of the Western Conference Finals from the Golden State Warriors. Now with the reigning champs on the ropes, what does Billy Donovan and his hardened charges have in store for the second installment of this series? Few could have predicted that the Thunder (55-27, 1st in Northwest Division) would have been able to carry the momentum created against the Spurs over to their showdown with the Warriors, particularly given the changes they made to their rotation to compete with the former. After all, San Antonio and Golden State employ two very different styles, with Oklahoma City resorting to a much larger, more physical lineup to overwhelm what has been one of the most unflappable groups in the league. However, that tactic wasn’t likely to succeed against the smaller, Warriors, hose shooting was sure to create all manner of mismatches, right? Or so we thought… Despite trailing for virtually the entirety of Monday Night’s 108-102 victory, the visiting side was able to make the game ugly, holding arguably the most potent offensive team that the league has ever seen to just 44.0% shooting from the field, including 11-of-30 from beyond the arc (36.7%), all the while taking residence at the Charity Stripe (22-of-32, 68.8%), and battering them on the glass to the tune of 62-55. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, they held their own in transition; Oklahoma City forced fourteen turnovers, which led to twenty points, helping offset the host’s Fast Break Points (21-23). Donovan must have been proud of his team’s defensive intensity, as they racked up a dozen steals, with Russell Westbrook logging seven by himself, a franchise postseason record. And speaking of Westbrook, the explosive Point Guard played a huge role in the Thunder’s miraculous fourteen-point comeback, scoring twenty-four of his twenty-seven points in the second half, with nineteen coming in the Third Quarter alone. All in all, it was a poor shooting night for the five-time All-Star (7-of-21, 33.3%), but he was able to offset that by calmly knocking down eleven of his fourteen free-throws and dishing out a dozen assists. It wasn’t an easy night by any means for Kevin Durant either, who added another twenty-six points on 10-of-30 shooting from the field (33.3%), along with ten rebounds, three assists, and three steals. However, he proved his mettle once again down the stretch, nailing a critical 17-foot jumper with 30.7 seconds remaining in regulation to ultimately seal the victory. Enes Kanter continued to make an impact after Donovan deployed him with more frequency against San Antonio, accumulating eight points on 4-of-8 shooting off the bench, with six rebounds, a block and a steal in eighteen minutes of play. The young Center helped limit the Warriors to one shot on most of their possessions, and keep them out of the paint. He and fellow big man Steven Adams have developed an solid chemistry in patrolling the paint, with the latter adding sixteen points, twelve rebounds, and a pair of blocks in the victory. Oklahoma City must continue to receive this kind of production from their supporting cast, so that the likes of Westbrook and Durant can continue to do their thing without bring mobbed by double teams.
Meanwhile, the Warriors (73-9, 1st in Pacific Division) may not come out and say it, but they are becoming quickly acquainted with a feeling that must be very alien to them at this point: desperation. Falling behind two games en lieu of two games at Chesapeake Energy Arena is by no means an ideal situation, and you can bet that Steve Kerr and his charges will be looking to make the requisite adjustments to prevent that from happening. But after owning the Thunder during the Regular Season, the tables were abruptly turned in Monday’s defeat. So what in the hell happened, you ask? Well, let’s start with how they fared against Oklahoma City in their three meetings this season. The defending champions outscored their opponent in this series by an average of 9.3 points, while shooting 50.2% from the field, including 34.8% from beyond the arc, while dishing out a ridiculous 27.3 assists in comparison to just 9.7 turnovers, their lowest such figure against any of their opponents this season. Now let’s pay attention to that last statistic, for in Game One it was hard to imagine this team being more careless with the basketball. Those aforementioned fourteen turnovers hung over their head like a proverbial black cloud, leading to twenty Oklahoma City points, reigning two-time MVP Steph Curry looked flustered throughout the Fourth Quarter, committing seven turnovers all by himself. While people will quickly point to the fact that Monday Night’s contest was just his third game since returning from a sprained knee, Curry found very little breathing room against the Thunder, who relegated him to 9-of-22 shooting from the field (40.9%), including 6-of-14 from beyond the arc (42.8%), along with ten rebounds, seven assists, and three steals. However, he was far from the only Warrior to struggle in Game One; fellow sharpshooter Klay Thompson was just 11-of-25 overall (44.0%), including 3-of-8 from downtown (37.5%), while Draymond Green was just 9-of-20 from the floor (45.0%) in constant conflict with the likes Kanter and Adams in the paint. Granted, their Big Three accounted for a total of seventy-four points, but did so on a relatively dismal 43.2% shooting. With all that said, the most troubling thing about the loss was the fact that despite holding a nine-to-ten point lead for virtually the entire game, the Warriors simply couldn’t put away a team on their own floor, where they only lost two games all season. A controversial non-call on Westbrook (who appeared to travel) with 17.2 seconds left to play, and the hosts down 105-102 drew the ire of Kerr and his Staff late, but the fact remains that his team had a plethora of opportunities to put their opponent away and didn’t. It wasn’t the first time this postseason that Oklahoma City had benefitted from questionable officiating, but all in all, it probably should have never even came to that.