Western Conference Finals Roundtable: Warriors vs. Thunder

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Participants include:

Kyle Allan (@kallan41)

Martin Soaries (@marsoaries)

Ryan Kirk (@rlk716)

DJ Allen (@djallen23)

Aram Cannuscio (@ACannus

1. What’s your first train of thought when it comes to this series?

Allan: This could be one of the best Western Conference Finals we have seen in a while. I say this because the Thunder have bad blood with the Warriors from the regular season, as they were not able to beat them once. There are going to be five superstars on the floor in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. This sets up a great matchup because we have one team, the Warriors, that brings the most “team” aspect. While on the other side, we have the Thunder, who have two of the best players in the league, and it seems the rest of the team will ride their coattail.

Soaries: Just high-powered basketball with insane star power. This is the first time the top two offensive-rated teams are meeting in a playoff series since Spurs-Thunder in the 2012 WCF. It’s the highest combined offensive rating between two teams in a playoff series since Bulls/Jazz in 1997. This series has the last three league scoring champions: Curry, Westbrook, Durant.

Kirk: It’s such an star-studded series, just think of all of the big names Steph, Draymond, Klay, Durant and Westbrook. It’s going to be the basketball version of the Oscars.

Allen: I’m partially surprised that OKC is here. Coming into the season I picked OKC to win the title, but after seeing how great the Warriors played as well as the San Antonio Spurs, I just knew we were going to see a Golden State/San Antonio series. Even though Oklahoma City came out victorious in the previous series, we have a great set of games ahead of us between these two dynamic teams.

Cannuscio: I’m thinking that this matchup could pave the landscape of the Western Conference for the upcoming years. If the Thunder win and move onto the NBA Finals they would have proved themselves, Durant would probably stick around after this season, and they would officially put themselves right next to the Warriors as the best team in the West.

2. What are you looking at as the key matchup?

Allan: It has to be Russell Westbrook vs. Stephen Curry. Westbrook will be trying his best to lock up the best shooter in the world, but I am not so sure he can have success. On the other hand, the Warriors have had trouble this season slowing down athletic, penetrating point guards, and of that style of player, Westbrook leads the way in that category. It will be very fun to watch.

Soaries: Westbrook/Curry is the one screaming at us, and rightfully so, but I’m looking at the cross matches on the wing. Durant is obviously high priority for the Warriors and he’ll probably be seeing a lot of different looks in the series, and then I’m specifically watching for how Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are attacking their match ups.

Kirk: Westbrook vs. Curry will be the matchup to look for when it comes to this series. How much Westbrook tries to prove himself against Curry will make him look selfish and hurt the team concept that beat the Spurs.

Allen: The key matchup I’m looking at is the battle between the bigs of each team. The Thunder have great size whereas the Warriors love to go small. So it will be interesting to see when and how each team adapts to the other teams’ lineup.

Cannuscio: The key matchup is going to be Serge Ibaka vs. Draymond Green. If Ibaka isn’t able to be productive against Green or at least defend him well on the other end, the Thunder don’t have much of a chance this series. Durant and Westbrook can’t do everything for the Thunder, they’ll need their supporting cast to help. That starts with Ibaka.
(Photo: Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports)

3. Who are the difference makers for both teams?

Allan: For the Warriors, the difference maker in my opinion is Draymond Green. Yes we all know what Curry and Thompson are capable of, but are we forgetting what Draymond Green averaged versus the Trail Blazers? The man averaged 22.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game in that series. As basically the third option on offense, and the best defender on the team, I would say Draymond makes the most difference in this upcoming series. For the Thunder, it is obvious, it has to be the combination of Westbrook and Durant. The Thunder are not where they are without them. They are both capable of scoring 40+ points a night, and they both have to show up if they want to pull off an upset in this series.

Soaries: For the Thunder, Dion Waiters, Andre Roberson, and Steven Adams can be difference makers. Waiters is challenged because of Golden State’s length but he needs to be a factor if they’re going to have a chance. Roberson’s presence defensively needs to hold up against Golden State’s wings and he’ll need to make a few shots, and Steven Adams’ presence on the glass and in the paint has to be huge.

For the Warriors — Draymond Green. I think he’s the most important player in this series. I think he needs to have something of a monster series to aid Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in fending off Westbrook and Durant, not to mention he’ll have his hands full on defense.

Kirk: Draymond Green will be the difference maker on defense for the Warriors. The way he switches on the high pick and rolls from the Thunder will be pivotal. Dion Waiters will be key for the Thunder bench. Golden State has the best bench in the league, so if Waiters can play like he did against San Antonio, that will be very helpful.

Allen: For the Thunder, like I’ve said all season, their two guards are their difference makers. When they are knocking down threes and hitting open shots, the Thunder are so hard to stop. Russell Westbrook does a good job at getting others involved because he draws so much attention, so if those guys are hitting their shots like they did in Game 6 against the Spurs, they will be harder to stop. The difference makers for the Warriors will be Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, and their other players that will be spending time defending Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. If they can contain those two guys and not let them get going then they will be in pretty good shape in this series.

Cannuscio: Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are the two difference makers. Either one can take over and win each game for their team. It’s just the matter of if Curry or Durant are going to be at their best. Steph hasn’t played much this postseason yet and might be a bit rusty in the early games in this series. Kevin Durant will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders and it’ll be interesting to see if he can take on that load.

4. Should OKC downsize to match with GSW’s small lineups, or stay with their two-big looks we saw against the Spurs?

Allan: I would say they should stick with what they have had success with at first. The combination of Adams and Kanter really made a difference against the Spurs. I would say that they should use them when Ezeli and Bogut are in, but they have to find the right match-ups when the Warriors go small. That is where Golden State is dangerous. They just might not have an answer for that.

Soaries: Billy Donovan should definitely variate and he’s not afraid to. He’ll probably be making different adjustments either way, but I do think the Thunder will have to go small in spurts with Durant at the four.

Kirk: Don’t change the game plan! If adjustments need to be made throughout the series then you can do so, but for now stick to the script.

Allen: OKC is going to have to downsize because Golden State’s death lineup is too lethal. Andrew Bogut is a great defender at the rim and Draymond Green does a good job at defending bigger opponents as well so I believe defensively, they will be able to hold their own. But when it comes to guarding the Warriors, the Thunder are going to have to downsize. They’re too fast and too quick for the Thunder’s bigs to keep up.

Cannuscio: In Game 1, OKC should stay with their two-big looks. If it is obvious that they can’t handle the small ball lineups from the Warriors, Steven Adams might have to be used less often. Lately, small ball has always won, so they will most likely have to adjust.

5. Do the Thunder look ready to dethrone the defending champions?

Allan: I just think what the Warriors were able to do in the regular season against the Thunder shows that they might just have too much firepower for Oklahoma City. It will be a great series, but the Warriors are just too good at home. Now, the Thunder blew fourth quarter leads in those games during the regular season, so they have to avoid that to have any chance. Overall, I think that this series goes 7 games.

Soaries: Maybe as ready as they’ll ever be in terms of having their stars healthy, having the hunger to get back to the Finals, and having just beaten the Spurs.

Kirk: No weapon formed against Golden State shall prosper. The Thunder have a shot at winning 1 or 2 game out of the series, but do not think for a second they can WIN it all.

Allen: No, the Thunder are not ready to dethrone the defending champions. When it comes down to the final stretches of games, they have a tendency of making poor decisions. The Thunder gave up a bunch of fourth quarter leads this season which shows how bad they can be down the stretch. When playing a team as great as the Golden State Warriors, those type of mistakes can’t be tolerated. They are never out of a game and one or two bad mistakes/shots can turn into a 6 or 7-point swing real quick. I believe their mental mistakes will be their Achilles heel in this series.

Cannuscio: I believe that the Thunder are indeed ready, but being ready and being capable are two completely different things. This series could easily go 7 games. Oklahoma City has the pieces to beat the Warriors, but I just don’t think Westbrook and Durant will be good enough to beat the Warriors considering how dominant Curry has been.

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