The Golden State Warriors are an absolutely ridiculous team. I watched their game against the Toronto Raptors recently, and it was like watching a souped-up version of the mid-2000s Phoenix Suns. They'll just keep scoring and scoring to the point where they build 20 point leads out of nowhere, and then watch that lead dwindle back down to 5. Sometimes, the Warriors will lose the lead through bad interior defense and rebounding, like you might expect. But there are other times where the helter-skelter nature of Golden State's offense will lead to them simply shooting themselves in the foot with bad turnovers, which is where the Thunder really thrive. That's why the one true game between these two teams this season was an instant classic. These teams are simply meant to play off of each other.
Long-time Thunder fans will recognize the face of Ron Adams on the Warrior sideline. He was the man credited with establishing the Thunder's defense when we were starting Nenad Krstic at center. It's appropriate, then, that the Warriors are currently playing without centers Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli. It's forced Marreese Speights and David Lee to play the position unnaturally, with mixed results. The Warriors are generally able to contain whomever they might be playing with Speights and Green, but Lee is a definite defensive weakness for them down low. It will be interesting to see how the Thunder's bench lineup of Collison and Perk fares against them, especially given Collison's terrific offensive performance against the Wizards.
The center battle definitely won't be the focus of this game, though. All eyes will be on Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the infamous Splash brothers. After the Thunder's first encounter with the Warriors, I had seriously believed that these two could be countered with a combination of Andre Roberson and Reggie Jackson on D. Boy, was I wrong. After the Splash Brothers went cold in the second half of their first encounter with the Thunder, they bounced back with a combined 54 points on 21 of 39 shooting. The most you can do against these guys is try to take away the three and pressure them into turnovers, so I'd expect the Thunder to continue to go over screens and hedge high, as always.
Still, the Warriors are so much more than just the Splash Brothers. Marreese Speights isn't a household name, but he's literally resurrected his career in Golden State. Speights has scored over 20 points in his past two games, and has only registered double digits in 20 of his past 23 games. The Speights Cadet mostly does his work on the pick and pop, since opposing teams are so attached to the idea of taking away Curry and Thompson's threes. The Thunder are terrible at defending the pick and pop, and as such allowed 10 points to Speights in just 20 minutes during the two teams' last encounter.
Aside from a potential surge from the bench bigs, I wouldn't anticipate any amazing performances from Thunder role players tonight. The Warriors typically suffer against really quick guards that are able to get between the seams of their defense. Greivis Vasquez is the perfect example, as he was able to run circles around the slower Shaun Livingston. Ish Smith is the only player on the Thunder who really fits that bill, and he gets no more than spot minutes. Still, I'd like to see the Thunder experiment with Smith at shooting guard for a few minutes tonight, because I really think it could wreak havoc on Golden State's D.
Two guys the Thunder really need to step up are Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka. Both have really struggled to put in any sort of offensive production against the Warriors, both for entirely different reasons. I'll start with Reggie. Jackson shot 38% while captaining the team during Westbrook's injury and only managed to chip in 4 points off the bench during the two teams' second encounter. The Warriors will always protect the basket against Reggie, and their long guards (Livingston, Holiday) are big enough to stop him from getting there. Thus, Jackson has to get some sort of a floater game going if he wants to be effective, and that's always dangerous. More than likely, OKC will be rolling out either Morrow or Roberson instead of Jackson in crunch time.
Ibaka's offensive numbers are also bad. Serge shot 29% in the early season OKC-GSW encounter and only turned in 12 points with 4 turnovers during the second encounter. There's no easy fix for his game, either. Ibaka thrives against slower bigs who give him space on the pick and roll. The Warriors are going to play guys like Green and Iguodala at the power forward spot, and they'll be able to routinely stick to him and deny him his shot. So Ibaka and his slow-as-molasses release will have to drain a couple of threes if they want to get going.
Before I end this recap, it should go without mentioning that the Warriors have never beaten the Thunder at full-strength, as KD's ankle injury forced him to sit out the second half of OKC's second encounter with Golden State. It also goes without saying that the Thunder won't have beaten the Warriors at full-strength if they win tonight, so that's that. I'm gonna go ahead and say the Warriors win tonight simply because I'm expecting Ibaka and Jackson to struggle, and the Warriors are at home. But if the Thunder are able to generate enough turnovers while the Warriors go cold from outside, OKC could easily win this game. In any case, tonight's game will certainly be one to remember.
Prediction: Golden State Warriors 107, Oklahoma City Thunder 100.
What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!
|2014-15 NBA Season Game 35|
|January 5th, 2014|
|ORACLE Arena, Oakland, California|
|9:30 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Bay Area|
|Injury Report: Mitch McGary, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli (Out)|
|Last Season's Matchups: Nov 23rd (L 86-91), Dec 18th (L 104-119)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Stephen Curry|
|Andre Roberson||SG||Klay Thompson|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Harrison Barnes|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Draymond Green|
|Steven Adams||C||Marreese Speights|