For the last two seasons the basketball world has been attempting to conjure up solutions to nullify the Golden State Warriors’ “Lineup of Death,” a unit that consists of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, an ensemble that blitzes you with a unique blend of smarts, shooting, quickness and ball-handling. This lineup had an indomitable aura about them, leaving teams league-wide miffed as to why they couldn’t find the solution.
Well it appears as if the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team that currently lead the Warriors 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals, has cracked the code.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 25, 2016
OKC’s surprising series lead can be accredited to the obvious: the brilliance of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, both of whom have been playing sagacious basketball this postseason, but the Thunder’s dynamic duo have been succored by their teammates in a major way.
Dion Waiters hasn’t craved touches and lofted up bad shots, and they’ve actually deployed him as a quasi-point guard when Westbrook rests. In his last six games for the Thunder, Waiters is averaging 8.5 points and 3.2 assists per while shooting (what is for him) a robust 44% from the field and a searing 46% from downtown.
The statical measures are modest, but the eye-test may be the more appropriate method to gauge Waiter’s impact in this series.
Many know that during the regular season Waiters had a tendency to do erratic things on the court, but this run has infused him with a basketball wisdom that we wish he yielded on a consistent basis. He’s become reliable, and that’s huge for Oklahoma City. The Thunder have always been deprived of that “third option” since they’ve traded James Harden, but Waiters has been assuming that role optimally.
It may not be to the degree of Harden, but nobody is asking for that. Just someone who can alleviate some pressure off of KD and Russ when need be.
Starting shooting guard Andre Roberson, who is out there to be a pestering defensive presence, has taught himself how to make deserting defenses pay by making strong cuts to the basket and by being active on the offensive glass.
For majority of the season and early on in the playoffs, Roberson grew too content being stationary on the perimeter when teams would abandon him to send defenders to help elsewhere. He’d be relegated to the outside, an area that’s not one of comfort for him. Instead of meandering in an place in which he doesn’t belong, Roberson has begun cutting and making heady basketball plays.
Oh, and he’s actually been knocking down threes this series! In the two wins over the Warriors at Chesapeake Bay Arena, Roberson averaged 15 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals per, including an inscrutable 50% from downtown. How important is it for OKC that Roberson at muster’s up at least some offensive production?
In games that Roberson hit at least one three-pointer this postseason the Thunder are 5-1. Deem this as insignificant if you want, but Roberson being semi-respectable from the outside creates another crevice for OKC to operate through. It provides them with another wrinkle that teams honestly aren’t prepared for, making them all the more overwhelming. It forces defenders to think twice when wandering aimlessly when slotted on him, and in playoff basketball this matters.
In addition to Roberson and Waiters, other players have made key contributions when beckoned upon. For example, Randy Foye played 13 minutes last night and scored zero points, leading most to state that his offering in this game was nominal, but here’s one defensive possession from Game 4 that would refute that claim if it were to be made.
Look at the Thunder guarding Curry off the ball last night. This is what you call, locked in. pic.twitter.com/Cxz8Nxt0Zr
— Royce Young (@royceyoung) May 25, 2016
That’s complete buy-in from your guys. Foye, who was acquired by the Thunder in a trade deadline deal, most likely thought he’d be the recipient of more minutes coming to a team such as Oklahoma City, but there have been stretches in which he’s languished on the bench for a prolonged period of time. Despite this fact, he stays ready and when asked to come into the game and get things done, he harasses Curry to perfection.
Things like this are important, especially when tasked with tracking the greatest shooter ever. A flicker of daylight is all Curry needs, and if he makes one and flamethrower mode initiates, that’s on you. In the postseason the importance of each possession increases significantly, and things such as these must be scoped out and appreciated.
Lastly, round of applause for Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams, both of whom have been instrumental in eradicating the effectiveness of the aforementioned “Lineup of Death.” Ibaka, whom I’ve pegged as one of my bigger disappointments in recent memory due to his seemingly stagnant state, has awoken from his slumber and has been not only that energetic and imposing defensive paint presence that OKC needs, but he’s been humming on the offensive end.
Ibaka has drilled open threes, has kept himself and the ball moving and has snagged down countless offensive rebounds, which has been one of the Thunder’s greatest advantages not only in this series but all season long.
Adams, a brute with a comedic side during postgame interviews, has endured some tough blows this series, but otherwise he’s been dynamite. It boggles my mind that Adams is only 22 and is this good already. When we first laid eyes upon the former University of Pittsburgh Panther, we saw an irritant that oozed potential, and now it seems as if everything that was anticipated has come to fruition.
Adams’ finishing ability out of the pick-and-roll is superb, and he’s an underrated passer as well. Pair this with his defensive acuity, and you have a paint pillar next to Ibaka in which Oklahoma City can lean upon for the foreseeable future. As for erosion don’t worry about that, Adams is as sturdy as they come.
Oklahoma City’s ability to win the NBA Championship is contingent on their superstars’ ability to register virtuosic performances on the game’s biggest stage, but some assistance from those that flank them is always welcomed. They’ve gotten that aid against the league’s two biggest juggernauts in the form of San Antonio and Golden State, and with ample production for five more wins they could unexpectedly be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come mid-June.