In the Western Conference Finals, we get a box office attraction in the Golden State Warriors taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Warriors had the best regular season in NBA history in defense of their NBA Championship from a year ago. The Thunder were a team that everyone knew had a lot of talent, but often-times got overlooked due the San Antonio Spurs being on the Warriors’ heels all season long.
Many had the Warriors and Spurs penciled into the Western Conference Finals, but the Thunder had other ideas. Now we get the star-studded matchup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green vs Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Three of the top-five players in the world will slug it out to see who represents the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
Golden State won the regular season series 3-0, which will be enough for a lot of people to think this series will be won by the Warriors in similar fashion. What people are overlooking is that those games were close with all three being tied in the fourth quarter. The Thunder held a lead going into the fourth quarter all three times, but could not seal the deal. However, the deficits were not significant outside of the second game of the regular season series. In that game, the Thunder blew a 23-point lead and an 11-point lead with under five minutes left and watched Curry hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer from just inside half court.
The Warriors will look to find a way to slow down Durant, who scorched Golden State in the regular season. In the three games, Durant averaged 36 points per game on 52% shooting, 12 rebounds and 6.3 assists. He got to the free throw line nine times per game. No Golden State defender could stop Durant and whoever draws the assignment of trying to contain him this series had better pack a lunch. Durant is looking to get back to the NBA Finals and avenge his loss from earlier in his career and wants to prove that he and Westbrook can lead this team to do just that.
For as much as Durant was a problem for the Warriors, Curry was an even bigger problem for the Thunder. He averaged 35 points per game on 48% from the floor and 46% from beyond the arc. He single-handedly beat the Thunder in the same game he won at the buzzer, even outscoring them as a whole during the last five minutes of regulation. The big question surrounding Curry is the health of his right knee, he sprained his MCL in Game 4 against Houston. He returned to his MVP self in Games 4 and 5 to close out the Trail Blazers, after shaking off some rust. The Thunder can afford to let Curry do that again, if, and it’s a big if, they can keep the supporting cast in check.
Will Russell Westbrook continue his shoot-less mentality? If he is able to get the ball to his teammates, especially Durant, and still have a hand in the scoring, that will be beneficial for the Thunder. He took the blame for the Game 3 loss against the Spurs when he shot 10-31 from the floor. The next game he dished out 15 assists. In Game 5, he messed around and nearly got a triple-double with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. In the closeout game against San Antonio, he had 28 points and 12 assists. He will need to shoot better than 35 percent and 16 percent from the three-point line against the Warriors if the Thunder want to win this series. Westbrook will play with a chip on his shoulder as he heard everyone talk about how they couldn’t make it to the Western Conference Finals and now that they don’t have a shot against the Warriors.
Klay Thompson is the other superstar in this series. He averaged 23.7 points on 53% shooting vs the Thunder in the regular season. He carried the load for the most part in Curry’s absence and can shoot the lights out. If he can up his point total just slightly against Oklahoma City, the Warriors will be much better off. If he is able to go off during this series, the Thunder will be in some trouble as Curry is more than enough to worry about.
The matchup of Draymond Green and Serge Ibaka could be the matchup that decides the winner of this series. Green is rising up the NBA ranks and is a great compliment to Curry and Thompson. In the regular season Green averaged 8.3 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists per game against the Thunder. He too, along with Thompson, should look to score the ball more against OKC. Ibaka played well against the Warriors this season, averaging 14.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. If he is finally able to show up and help Durant and Westbrook out, like he has shown he can do in the past, the games will be a lot more interesting.
Statistically, the Thunder need to continue to get the advantage on the offensive glass, averaging 12.5 offensive boards against the Dubs. Like the last series, the impact that Steven Adams and Enes Kanter can have in the paint could go a long way. The turnover department will be another focus point of the stats. Both teams average 13 turnovers per game. Durant and Westbrook contribute to a good portion of the turnovers for the Thunder, something they must limit. Both of these areas will have an effect on how each team fares in transition.
So who represents the Western Conference in the NBA Finals? I picked them at the beginning of the season to win it all and I’m sticking with that notion. The Oklahoma City Thunder will defeat the Golden State Warriors in seven games. Durant and Westbrook are on a mission to prove all the doubters and naysayers wrong. Oklahoma City had a chance to win each of the three regular season games but faltered down the stretch. That won’t be the same outcome this series. The Thunder have the weaponry in their two superstars and the game plan to knock off the defending champs to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals.