9:00 PM EST, TNT – Line: Golden State -7, Over/Under: 218.5
And it all comes down to this. After a riveting six games, the Western Conference Finals will come to a close tonight, as the Oklahoma City Thunder travel to ORACLE Arena to face the defending champion Golden State Warriors in a decisive Game Seven. One of the more surprising stories of these Playoffs has been the emergence of the Thunder (55-27, 1st in Northwest Division), who have collectively raised their games to a frighteningly potent level, which has been no more apparent than in their shocking ousting of the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Semifinals, coupled with the way they have handled the Warriors throughout the majority of this series. Head Coach Billy Donovan deserves a wealth of credit for the way he has been able to motivate his team, all the while making some of the more brilliant adjustments in this postseason. Against San Antonio, he was able to utilize a larger lineup without sacrificing athleticism, while against Golden State he’s found great success with a far smaller lineup, to counter his opponent’s quickness and spacing. The supporting cast has enjoyed some great moments in this series, with the likes of Andre Roberson and Dion Waiters each making key contributions over the past two weeks, while superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have played at a very high level. Through four games they pushed the Dubs to the brink of elimination, on the ropes waiting for that looming knockout punch. However, as was a problem throughout the Regular Season, the Thunder had a persistent problem of closing out games, meeting defeat on fourteen occasions despite holding a Fourth Quarter Lead. And while it appeared that they shed that bad habit in the postseason, it is they who must be scratching their head wondering what could have been. First, they dropped Game Five at ORACLE Arena 120-111, which was to be expected, but Saturday’s 108-101 loss at home in Game Six had to leave a bad taste in their mouths. Despite leading throughout the contest, Donovan’s charges crumbled in the waning moments, committing six turnovers over the final 2:55 of play, in which they relinquished a five-point lead that they would never regain. Basically, everything that had worked to their benefit over the first four games of the series betrayed them in that final stanza. Though he accounted for twenty-eight points, albeit on 10-of-27 shooting from the field (37.0%), Westbrook racked up eleven assists and one turnover in the first three quarters of play, but in the Fourth logged no helpers only to cough up the rock four times. Durant too was far from immune to these issues, scoring a team-high twenty-nine points on a poor 10-of-31 shooting from the floor (32.3%), with as many assists (3) as turnovers. As a team, the hosts actually shot a HIGHER percentage than the visiting side (42.2%), but were absolutely toothless from beyond the arc, where they managed to net a miserable 3-of-23 attempts (13.0%). In fact, the triumvirate of Westbrook, Durant, and Serge Ibaka was just 2-of-19 from downtown (10.5%). The only reason they even held some semblance of control in this game was their residence at the Free-Throw Line, where they made 22-of-32 attempts (68.8%), seven more than the Warriors. But it was the fluid, team basketball that they had thrived in over the past month that disappeared Saturday Night, as Oklahoma City once again resembled the team that featured a pair of superstars buoyed by a suspect at best supporting cast; the home side dished out sixteen assists while committing fifteen turnovers, while the Bench registered a mere eleven points. And we would be remiss to not mention the hard decisions that are looming on the horizon, as Durant’s Free Agency puts this franchise’s future literally up in the air. Indeed, this could be the last time we see the Thunder compete as presently constructed.
Meanwhile, ladies and gentlemen, we’d like you introduce the Warriors (73-9, 1st in Pacific Division), whose resilience was finally tested after breezing through a whirlwind campaign in which they set a Single Season NBA Record with seventy-three victories. Sure they were some close calls along the way, but this series with the Thunder represents the first time in quite a while that Steve Kerr’s charges had been presented with any real adversity. Oklahoma City made the statement from tip-off in Game One that they were far from simply happy to be here, taking the fight to Golden State, and repeatedly punching them in the face. Over the course of the first four games, the Dubs lost consecutive games for the first time all season, and were absolutely humbled in those particular contests, getting blasted by a combined fifty-two points in Games Three and Four at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Trailing three games to one in the Western Conference Finals, the defending champions now faced the very real possibility of becoming not only the team that broke the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls’ hallowed record, but falling short of closing the deal and hoisting another Larry O’Brien Trophy. Surely the 2007 New England Patriots could empathize. But these champions have no glass jaw, folks, for theirs is made of steel. The desperate home side returned to ORACLE Arena in Game Five and outlasted the fiery Thunder in a 120-111 victory, in which they finally regained their shooting touch. However, it was Game Six that was a sight to behold, for if they do end of winning this series and going on to repeat as NBA Champions, we will all likely look back to Saturday’s 108-101 epic as their turning point. For virtually the entire game, the Warriors were anywhere from three-to-five points away from drawing even with the hosts, relentlessly bombing away from three-point range in hopes of finally surpassing their nemesis, which they eventually did. Golden State attempted a ridiculous forty-four three-pointers that night, netting a superb twenty-one of them (47.7%), outscoring Oklahoma City by a whopping fifty-four points in that regard, allowing them to overcome their deficiencies in the paint (minus-24) and from the Charity Stripe (minus-seven). Leading the charge was one Klay Thompson, who in just a few words was otherworldly. The less-heralded half of Kerr’s sharpshooting Backcourt owned the night, scoring a game-high forty-one points on 14-of-30 shooting from the field (46.7%), while setting an NBA Playoff Record with eleven three-point field goals on eighteen attempts (61.1%), with fourteen of his total coming in the Fourth Quarter alone. The two-time reigning MVP Steph Curry overcame a slow start to nearly put together a Triple-Double, scoring thirty-one points of his own on 9-of-22 shooting from the field (40.9%), including 6-of-13 from downtown (46.2%), along with ten rebounds, nine assists, and a pair of steals. Indeed, this team answered any questions that had been posed about their toughness, loud and clear. Now they’ll need to do it one more time, lest they go down in history for dubious reasons.
Predicted Outcome: Warriors 109, Thunder 102