Point/Counterpoint: Why the Warriors and Thunder are so Equal

Sefolosha knew he could hit that shot in his sleep. - Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

This game was a lot more than a buzzer-beating shot.

I wanted to come up with an original way to talk about this barnburner of a game. So I went back and watched it again, re-experiencing every single play and taking notes on things that I noticed. After looking over those notes at the end, I realized that every note I made in one team's favor seemed to counterbalance a note I made in the other team's favor. Thus, I decided to make my analysis of this game in the form of point-counterpoint, in order to help illustrate just how many factors can go into having a game come down to the absolute wire.

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Point

The Warriors turned the ball over more than last time. The Thunder's strategy remained the same throughout both encounters between these two teams. They tried to overload the strong side of the court and force steals, while leaving themselves susceptible to open shots on the weak side of the court. In the first game, the strategy didn't work too well, because Andre Iguodala was there to provide a solid ballhandling and defense-sucking presence. But without Andre Iguodala, the Thunder were able to collapse upon stranded Warriors players for easy steals. Simply put, the Warriors didn't have any ballhandlers or distributors outside of Curry, so it's easy to take advantage of the team when he's out of the offensive picture.

Counterpoint

The Warriors got better at rebounding. The Thunder won the overall rebounding battle, but only by three. Last time, the Thunder won the battle of the boards by 13. Why? Well, there's not an easy answer to this one. The Warriors did go bigger for longer in this game, with more minutes for Draymond Green and Mareese Speights. David Lee was also less involved in the game both offensively and defensively, letting him concentrate more on the boards. Furthermore, for the majority of the game, Curry was defending the shooting guard position, and the players he was guarding (Sefolosha and Jackson) weren't huge offensive factors. So that left him to clean up a few more loose rebounds. Plus, Andrew Bogut was able to get a couple on Adams. So yeah, it was just a combination of factors.

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Point

Klay Thompson had a really bad night. There's just not a lot to say about this one. The shots were there for him, but he just couldn't put the ball in the hole.

Counterpoint

After a 6-7 start, Russell Westbrook finished 4-18, including his stunning game winner. The reason for the change? Mark Jackson switched Klay Thompson and Draymond Green onto Westbrook. Early in the game, Curry was really having trouble finding his way around screens, and Westbrook was able to get to his sweet spots. In fact, during the fourth quarter, Curry switched back onto Westbrook for a play, and Westbrook was immediately able to blow by him for an easy layup. But with Thompson and Green on him, Westbrook really struggled. He couldn't bully his way to points in the post, and every mid to long range shot he took was slightly altered. He was even forced into shooting from his "no-zone" on a couple of plays. Westbrook did make the best of the situation though, using the defensive attention he was getting for a few easy assists in the fourth.

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Point

Stephen Curry was a bad defender in general. Whomever Curry was guarding seemed to have a good night. First it was Westbrook, as mentioned above. Then he spent some time covering Sefolosha, who was able to snipe a few easy points against Curry in the second quarter. Later in the game he wasn't as noticeable, but Reggie Jackson had a few nice shots against him as well. Curry's no Derek Fisher, but he just seemed to have a tough time stopping players tonight.

Counterpoint

Harrison Barnes could easily isolate against anyone smaller than him. Barnes is really good at nailing turnaround shots and using a variety of creative moves to create space for a shot. In essence, he's Kevin Durant Lite. If Westbrook or Jackson ever switched onto him, it was automatic points. This more than made up for Curry's defensive sins.

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Point

David Lee was dominated by Ibaka. Every time he rolled to the rim, Ibaka was expecting it, and Ibaka did a great job of anticipating the timing on Lee's post-ups. David Lee is also one of the league's worst defenders, and it showed against Ibaka. Ibaka normally really struggles to score in the paint and gets the majority of his points from mid-range jumpers, but against Lee he had no trouble getting easy shots near the rim. It wasn't so much Ibaka posting up Lee as it was Lee losing Ibaka's position and demonstrating a lack of awareness near the rim.

Counterpoint

Andrew Bogut similarly dominated Steven Adams. When you look at the footage of these two centers going at it, it doesn't look like Steven Adams is doing anything wrong at first glance. Upon closer examination, it was apparent that Adams did a good job of keeping Bogut away from the rim, but did a terrible job of actually defending Bogut's shots, which went down without a hitch. Bogut's statline doesn't look that impressive at first glance, but when you see Adams' -13 +/- ratio, things become more clear.

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Point

Jeremy Lamb made Stephen Curry miss three straight shots in overtime. This was the biggest game-winning move by Scott Brooks. If the Warriors are going to make Westbrook struggle against a longer and stronger defender, the Thunder might as well do it too.

Counterpoint

Barnes poked the ball away from KD twice in OT, and Westbrook continued to struggle offensively. KD was taking too long to isolate Barnes, and Barnes was able to poke a couple of balls away. Meanwhile, Westbrook still wasn't having success against Klay Thompson.

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Point

Barnes was great at isolating all game, but failed when he had a great matchup against Westbrook. He could have sealed this game on the Warriors final possession, but pump faked too many times and got himself out of rhythm during his final shot attempt.

Counterpoint

Ibaka missed a prime opportunity to tie the game, too. He was wide open and in rhythm, but the free-throw line jumper didn't go down.

Counter-Counter-Point

Yup. Sometimes that's all it takes to swing the game in your favor.


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