|2012-2013 NBA Season|
|April 11th, 2013|
|Oracle Arena, Oakland, California|
|9:30 PM Central Daylight Time|
|Turner Network Television|
|WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), KNBR 680|
|Golden State Of Mind, WarriorsWorld|
|Previous Meetings: Nov 19, Jan 23rd Feb 6th (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-1)|
|Injury Report: Brandon Rush (Out)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Stephen Curry|
|Thabo Sefolosha||SG||Klay Thompson|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Harrison Barnes|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||David Lee|
|Kendrick Perkins||C||Andrew Bogut|
Twice in the last 19 years. That's how often the hapless Golden State Warriors have made the playoffs. In a league where over half of the teams qualify for the post season, this might not seem like much of an accomplishment. But for long-suffering Warriors fans, it might as well be winning the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Warriors are far from done. Their mission is to hold onto the 6th seed, a place which the Warriors haven't achieved since 1994. The Thunder, on the other hand, are looking to capture the 1 seed, something which they've never done in their short history.
Perhaps the Warriors best trait is the plethora of weapons that they have. Obviously, Stephen Curry is the leader of the team and will get the most shots regardless of whom the Warriors are playing. But aside from him, there's about 5-6 other guys who can go off for 20 points on any given night. The downside is that it means you can't always rely upon them to produce. Stephen Curry has had to basically carry the team on multiple occasions, including a 54 point performance against the Knicks.
When healthy and ready, these two teams will generally go into the final minutes of the game on equal footing. There was a Thunder blowout on February 6th, but the Warriors were playing without Jarrett Jack and didn't arrive until 4 in the morning because of heavy fog that surrounded Oklahoma City at the time. What differentiates the teams is their play style. The Warriors will use a lot of sophisticated offensive sets, often utilizing 5 players in one play. But they're also fond of the isolation play, especially in clutch situations. That can really hurt them against the Thunder, who love to pressure. On the other hand, the Thunder love to pick and roll, taking lots of mid-range jumpers
The most intriguing head-to-head battle, for me, is David Lee vs. Serge Ibaka. Lee is the classic back to the basket player. He loves to push his defender into the post and nail a turnaround jumper or a short hook. Ibaka, on the other hand, generally uses his speed to his advantage, nailing open mid-range shots and rolling into the paint. The one similarity they share is their penchant for offensive rebounds, as both of them average about three a game. But even then, their styles are contrasted. David Lee likes to use his know how and positioning to strategically grab the boards, while Ibaka whils use sheer force and determination to grab a heroic board.
Putting my preference for big men aside, the battle between Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook will probably be the one that determines the game. Both have shut down the other before, and how good each one is doing is a nice indicator as to how the game will end up. Of course, they both have their contrasts in style as well. Curry loves to use speed and court vision to run around his defenders and shoot wherever there's room. Westbrook, on the other hand, is a lot more physical. He uses his strength to get to the spots that he wants, and isn't afraid of contact.
Another thing to keep an eye on is the return of Andrew Bogut. He hasn't played against the Thunder yet this season, and has proved to be a defensive force in the paint. He's not quite on the offensive level he was at with the Bucks, but he definitely provides more of an option than Ezeli or Biedrins ever did, and should provide a nice post adversary for Kendrick Perkins.
All in all, this should be a game for the ages. Despite the differences in style, these teams always come out as statistical equals, and it all comes down to how each can perform in the clutch. In this instance, I see the Warriors pulling it out simply because their bench has a greater ability to produce offensively, and that might give them as slight advantage whenever KD or Westbrook sits in the early fourth. And I don't think the Thunder's offense has enough of an advantage to outscore the Warriors when they need it most. But, hay, I've been wrong before.
Prediction: Golden State Warriors 101, Oklahoma City Thunder 99.
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