2013-2014 Game 40 Preview: Thunder Get Last Shot at Warriors

Tony.psd

After two games that came down to the absolute wire, the Thunder and Warriors will square off in their final contest of the season.

Above you'll find a drawing of Jim Barnett, the long-time Warriors TV color commentator. He's retiring at the end of the season. I've listened to his analysis for years, and he's part of the reason I started blogging. Putting this image up is my way of commemorating his retirement. If you're confused, all you need to know is that shoes no longer use real rubber, you have to trade the two for one, and that optimism never goes out of style. (Drawing via Tony.psd.)

2013-2014 NBA Season
Warriors_medium
@
Thunder_medium
25-15
Lost 1

29-10
Won 1
January 17th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
8:30 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Bay Area
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), KNBR 680 and 1050 AM
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Jermaine O'Neal (Out), Festus Ezeli (Out)
Previous Matchups: Nov 15th, Nov 30th (The Season Series is Tied 1-1)
Probable Starters
Stephen Curry PG Reggie Jackson
Klay Thompson SG Thabo Sefolosha
Andre Iguodala SF Kevin Durant
David Lee PF Serge Ibaka
Andrew Bogut C Kendrick Perkins
2013/14 Advanced Stats
99.2 (4th) Pace 98.7 (6th)
103.5 (14th) ORtg 106.0 (7th)
99.1 (T-4th) DRtg 98.0 (T-2nd)

To answer your question: No, I can't find anything on whether Jordan Crawford or MarShon Brooks will play tonight.

In case you've been under a rock, let me explain. The Warriors just traded somewhat maligned backup point guard Toney Douglas and a trade exception. Douglas went to the Heat, while the trade exception went to the Celtics. In return, they got Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks, both from Boston. Meanwhile, Joel Anthony and a highly protected Philadelphia pick went to the Celtics, while the Celtics shipped off Toney Douglas to Miami. Basically, the Celtics are tanking, the Heat are clearing room in order to chase Andrew Bynum, and the Warriors are making a serious move at competing for a championship.

Why is this move great for the Warriors? Well, they've been struggling with backup point guard woes for a long time. Jarrett Jack and Stephen Curry used to form a mean combination, but the off-season acquisition of Iguodala broke up that tandem. Iguodala became the defacto backup PG. He actually does well in the role, drawing defensive pressure, nailing open threes, and rarely turning over the ball. However, he is a starter and rather big for a guard, so the team usually has to rely on backup guards Kent Bazemore and Nemanja Nedovic to carry the load for short periods of time. Bazemore provides decent defense and Nedovic has potential, but neither of them are at an NBA level in terms of offensive production or awareness.

In steps Jordan Crawford, who will do his best to run the offense effectively while the starters are riding the pine. He's not a pure point guard, but he was forced into shaing the role with Avery Bradley due to Rajon Rondo's injury. He was understandably under a lot of pressure but performed admirably, using his excellent off the dribble jumper and awareness of the team's offensive scheme to post a solid statline. If he plays tonight, he'll be a serious threat to force some scores against Derek Fisher, who isn't quick enough to cover a lot of perimeter shots.

Of course, if Crawford doesn't play, all of the above information is irrelevant. That doesn't make the game any less exciting, though. The Warriors and Thunder have had some exciting matchups in the past, but this year has taken the rivalry to a whole new level. The first matchup saw the Warriors hit a ridiculous amount of threes, Westbrook hit a shot from nearly half court, and Andre Iguodala beat the buzzer against Thabo Sefolosha. The second matchup saw the game go to OT, where Russell Westbrook hit an amazing buzzer beating three to seal the deal for the Thunder.

But really, who wants to hear me prattle on about something you could actually see? Here's the highlight packages from those two matchups. You're welcome.

Anyway, shifting focus to the Thunder specifically, it's a crying shame that Russell Westbrook won't be present for this matchup. There's no use in crying over spilled milk, but his absence definitely gives the Thunder a certified "underdog" status. This Westbrookless team has managed some impressive wins (including two convincing victories over Houston), but they've still got a track record of highly inconsistent play. They simply don't have the offensive consistency that Westbrook provided with his great shot creating ability, forcing the team to rely on great defensive stands and a little bit of KD magic in order to survive.

Furthermore, this Thunder team will be entering the game on the second end of a back-to-back, having just arrived in Oklahoma City after a game in Houston last night. During last night's Houston game, the Thunder had a legendarily bad night from three in the first half, failing to make a single attempt. The second half saw a bit of a recovery, but it doesn't take away from the fact that three point shooting remains a serious problem. The Warriors could very easily run away with this game if they protect the rim and force the Thunder to keep chucking.

Summing up, tonight's matchup should be as close as ever, despite what my gut feeling tells me. Russell Westbrook largely struggled in the previous matchups between these two teams, bothered by bigger Warrior defenders. If Reggie Jackson similarly struggles, then the Warriors will probably equal that with a bad shooting night from Klay Thompson or a high turnover rate. Some NBA teams are simply so well-matched up that they're destined to play competitive games, and the slightest nudge is enough to throw things out of balance. These two teams definitely meet those criteria, and you'd be a fool to not be extremely hyped right now.

Prediction: Golden State Warriors 104, Oklahoma City Thunder 102.

What do you think about tonight's game? Let us know in the comments!

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