In the regular season the Golden State Warriors lost just nine games. The Oklahoma City Thunder lost 27, but watching Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals you’d think those totals were reversed.
Since getting dominated by the Spurs in Game 1 of the Western semifinals, the Thunder have rattled off their most impressive stretch of basketball in five years.
They have matched the Warriors at every turn with a blur of athleticism and completely run them off the floor.
There is a lot wrong with Golden State. They committed 21 turnovers in Game 4 alone. The Lineup of Death, which ripped through the entire league in the regular season, has somehow been a net negative in the playoffs.
Steph Curry is either hurt far worse than he is letting on or the magic his fairy godmother provided all season is gone and he is slowly turning into a pumpkin. There is no burst, no explosion and no confidence to work through it.
The Warriors’ offense looks totally foreign. They are rushing shots, failing to get back on defense and fearing the Thunder’s length in the paint to almost comical degrees. Draymond Green has been atrocious, forcing terrible passes and spacing out on defense to the tune of a -73 in Games 3 and 4.
Still, the Thunder deserve a huge amount of credit. They didn’t just beat the Warriors in consecutive games, something no other team managed to do all season, they dominated them.
Billy Donovan has done a fantastic job to flummox the Golden State defense. The Warriors entered the series clearly determined to ignore Andre Roberson and Donovan has found ingenious ways to make them pay for it. He has essentially turned Roberson into a power forward on offense, having him screen and cut and attack unsuspecting Warrior defenders.
Kevin Durant has taken his game to another level on defense. I wrote it after Game 3, but his ability to move to the four on defense has been something the Thunder have been trying unleash for years and it has finally happened in this series. Along with Serge Ibaka, Durant gives OKC’s defense arms that can seemingly stretch the entire width of the court. He double-jumped to block a Shaun Livingston dunk in Game 4 and I’m still not sure how he managed it. Durant’s ability to switch on to Curry has neutralized the Green-Curry pick-and-roll, one of the most effective plays in the NBA.
There’s Steven Adams too. He has patrolled the paint and played through what must be an incredible amount of pain to completely intimidate the Warriors. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Russell Westbrook had a triple-double.
One of the best things about the Warriors all season was their collective basketball IQ. From Curry and Green to Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut, the Warriors play with a cerebral beauty. That is nowhere to be found in this series.
There aren’t many adjustments Steve Kerr can make to put his Warriors in a better position. Yes, he could have Curry guard Westbrook less and that might help him find his legs on offense. He should also the Warriors think about switching way, way more and trusting their collective effort on defense, rather than one-on-one matchups. But overall they need to play smarter.
The Warriors remain one of the greatest regular season teams in league history. The series isn’t over until they lose four times. But the Thunder sure seem close enough to taste it.