Last night's game was quite the nail-biter, and I think that the impression we are left with is that it was a game more difficult than it should have been. Keep in mind though that some teams simply create match-up problems for other teams. For the Thunder this season, they have a clear weakness in dealing with smaller and quicker teams that emphasize guard play (Warriors, Raptors). Also, for some strange reason the Warriors have an ability to generate a whole lot more shots on goal than the Thunder. In their previous match-up, the Warriors had a staggering 40 more shot attempts. Last night it was a little better, but still there was a meaningful 16 attempt discrepancy in the Warriors' favor. I'm not even sure how they do it; the Thunder only had four more turnovers and crushed Golden State on the boards, winning that battle by 10. Here are three more random musings that I am pondering today before I start thinking about the Suns tonight.
1. Kevin Durant gets space.
Yesterday I wrote about Kevin Durant's struggles against certain types of players and what happens when he is challenged by someone who is stronger than he. Last night, we saw what happens when his defender cannot apply that kind of defensive strength. It is true that nobody is going to mistake the Warriors for the Celtics, but it is not as if the Warriors don't have "length" guys like Dorell Wright and Reggie Williams who should be able to give Durant trouble. And yet, Kevin had little difficulty getting into open space to rediscover his outside shot. Durant shot 56.5% from the field and made 3-5 from 3-point range in the game.
Although it is a dubious proposition to ever offer the Warriors as an example for lock-down defense, I think it lends further credence to the type of player that gives Durant the most trouble. With the Ron Artests and Gerald Wallaces of the world looming on the horizon, the Thunder need to begin considering how to get those guys separated from Durant's basketball path.
2. Russell Westbrook: exploiting the match-ups. Russell Westbrook is a phenomenal athlete and an impressive physical specimen. I enjoyed his willingness to attack the weaker Stephen Curry whenever he could, and it is a testament to Westbrook's gamesmanship that the final play of the Thunder's offense was a call for his number. Durant set the high screen for him and Westbrook waited for the crease to form. At just the right moment, Russell went full badger and hit warp speed. He accelerated from outside the 3-point line and got to the rim in what seemed like two steps, drawing the foul. He missed the front end of his free throws which gave the Warriors a sliver of hope, but even so, it was Westbrook's exploitation of the match-up that allowed the Thunder to get their one point win.
The other aspect of Westbrook's game that was impressive but quite confusing was his posting up of Curry. Westbrook did it multiple times in the second half; he brought the ball up, waited for the clear-out, and took Curry straight into the post. This situation was a great opportunity for the Thunder, because Curry cannot match up with Westbrook's strength or explosiveness.Westbrook simply took the ball wherever he wanted to. And yet, the plays never actually worked. They didn't work because Westbrook and the team didn't really seem to know what to do once Westbrook had a good position. Each time Westbrook backed up Curry to within 10 feet of the rim, Westbrook seemed unsure how to pivot and attack. Even more perplexing, when the double team came to help Curry out (which is actually the ideal scenario, because by forcing the defense to give help, everything else on offense opens up), the Thunder did not seem to have anything in mind to exploit the opportunity. Westbrook merely passed the ball out of the post and they tried something else.
All told, it was as if the Thunder knew what they were supposed to do, but did not really know how to do it. I hope that they practice this set a little bit more, because if the team gets the Nuggets in the first round, there will be more opportunities for Westbrook to do the same thing against Ty Lawson.
3. The final regulation sequence. As I audibly explained to nobody in particular during the final 13 seconds of regulation, six points in the NBA is nothing. Nothing. NBA players are so talented that a simple miscue can ignite a six point swing in seconds. In fact, there is an Indiana Pacers blog that is dedicated to this very idea.
While it was maddening to watch the Thunder bungle the final two sequences, the Warriors' six point swing is also a testament to what makes the NBA great and unique. The very idea that something like that could happen, and then it in fact did happen, is a reminder that even under-performing teams like the Warriors have an abundance of talent that can steal victory away even from a surging team headed to the playoffs.
Yes, the Thunder could have and should have done a better job. The Warriors ran a great play to get Reggie Williams open for a 3-pointer in two seconds, and then Daequan Cook and Kevin Durant flubbed the in-bounds play to spring Monta Ellis for the tying 3-pointer. Even so, I've seen this type of exchange enough to know that it can happen to the best and worst teams. In the NBA, six points in seven seconds is always closer to a reality than you might think.