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Thunder vs. Warriors preview: OKC's last chance to send a message

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After an epic collapse to the Clippers last night, what does this team have left in the tank?

It's going down!
It's going down!
W. Bennett Berry

Since the All-Star break the Oklahoma City Thunder have gone 2-5 and now more than ever it's time for this team to figure out its identity.

Either finish the tough remaining schedule strong to secure the 3-seed and build some much needed momentum come playoff time. Or continue the fourth quarter meltdowns.

This team has had enough chances to come back strong from some questionable performances and although they have come out strong in recent big games, they still can't find a way to finish. And it doesn't get any easier from here. The Thunder are now 1.5 games ahead of the Clippers for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and 12 of the 21 remaining teams on the schedule have winning records. However, the Thunder still have the advantage in the race for 3-seed playing the Clippers twice more at home.

So...

What Happened Last Night?

Well it happened again. The Thunder were up 17 headed into the fourth and with the Warriors waiting the next day, extending the lead and resting the starters would've been ideal. But no, OKC had other plans. Plans to continue their unexplainable fourth quarter woes.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse than the Warriors comeback the Thunder got outscored 35-13 in the fourth quarter.

OKC lead by as many as 22 points but then coughed up the lead in route to a 103-98 loss. All eyes were on the Thunder's fourth quarter play in which the Clippers ended the game on a 23-2 run and OKC scored one field goal in the final five minutes.

I'm not entirely sure the Thunder know there's a fourth quarter to be played. OKC gave up too many easy looks and once again looked stagnant offensively. It just seems like the team goes into cruise control after it gets out to a big lead. But instead of keeping the momentum and finishing teams off, they let off the gas.

In the fourth quarter Randy Foye played nearly 10 minutes and Dion Waiters played 9 minutes. In that time the two combined for 2 points on 1-of-4 shooting.

Heck, even Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 7 points on 2-of-11 shooting with four turnovers in the fourth quarter.

Durant looked bad. He had senseless giveaways and took early, bad shots.

Don't even get me started on Westbrook's off-balance 3-pointer toward the end of the game.

Either way, the same things caused the Thunder's fourth quarter meltdown on Saturday. 1) Turnovers, 2) defensive breakdowns and 3) bad shots.

Losing Fourth Quarter Leads

What Happened Against the Warriors Last Time?

The Thunder dominated the game and outplayed the Warriors in basically every way. It was OKC's game to lose. And we all know what happened, so I'll cut to the chase. Once again, it all went downhill for OKC in the fourth quarter.

The Thunder lead by double-digits a number of times and even held an 11-point lead with under five minutes to go.

Under a minute left, with OKC up two, Durant was inbounded the ball and he was immediately double-teamed and trapped. Durant then threw a long pass to break the trap but it was tipped by Klay Thompson and then saved by Draymond Green. Durant fouled Andre Iguodala who made both clutch free throws with 0.7 second remaining.

Yes, Billy Donovan or Durant should've called a timeout. But the Thunder still had a chance to win it in overtime despite Durant fouling out 37 seconds in. Then as we all know. Steph Curry happened.

Although the crunch time play was concerning, there were still some positive takes from that game.

Positives:

It's not a coincidence that the Thunder can give the Warriors problems. OKC can clearly give the Warriors a push with their length and athleticism.

The Thunder did play one of their better games (six players scored in double-figures), but by no means were they perfect.They had 22 turnovers and missed nine free throws. Not something you can usually get away with when playing against Golden State.

Recently the Thunder have shown some success in taking away the 3-point shot. The Warriors went 7-of-26 in the first meeting from three and went just 2-of-16 from three aside from Curry in the second meeting. The Thunder also showed that they can play defense when they want to.

However, they're still 0-2 against the Warriors.

How Can You Beat This Team?

The million-dollar question. In the first two meetings we've seen Donovan make several adjustments and with one more regular season matchup remaining this would be a good time to try out a few more.

Donovan's Recent Lineup Adjustments

One of Donovan's biggest adjustments has been the staggering of Durant and Westbrook. Here's a video of Royce Young explaining the importance of the change.

Another change is Randy Foye taking over Cameron Payne's minutes. Since the trade deadline Donovan has gone with the veteran point guard who has seemed to find his place. He's a better defender and obviously has more experience, but it's still a tough situation for Payne. We saw a short glimpse of him last night, but I'd like to see him out there more with Durant and/or Westbrook.

Adjustments That Should Be Made

Donovan needs to give Enes Kanter more minutes and even try playing him more down the stretch.

Against the Clippers:

Kanter played 14:30, scored 8 points on 4-of-9 shooting and had 8 rebounds with a net rating of +4.

Ibaka played 32:31, scored 11 points on 5-of-16 and had 11 rebounds with a net rating of -9.

Adams played 26:51, scored 6 points on 3-of-4 and had 9 rebounds with a net rating of -9.

Fourth Quarter

Kanter played 5:45, scored 4 points on 2-of-2 shooting and had 2 rebounds with a net rating of -3.

Ibaka played 5:16, scored 0 points on 0-of-1 shooting and had 0 rebounds with a net rating of -19.

Adams played 4:26, scored 0 points and had two rebounds with a net rating of -13.

OKC once again dominated the glass (63-45) but shied away from the big man lineup. With the Griffinless Clippers it could've been best to stay big throughout the final quarter. With 7:26 left, Kanter dunked to put the Thunder up 93-77. After that, the final 7:25 of the game, the Thunder scored five points. Kanter was taken out at 6:15 mark and the Clippers scored 26 points.

First Meeting Against the Warriors (Feb. 6)

Kanter played 19:33, scored 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting and had 15 rebounds with a net rating of -1.

Ibaka played 5:46, scored 8 points on 3-of-5 shooting and had 3 rebounds with a net rating of -5.

Adams played 33:10, scored 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting and had 8 rebounds with a net rating of -12.

Fourth Quarter

Kanter played 10:28, scored 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting and had 6 rebounds with a net rating of +4.

Ibaka played 8:43, scored 1 point and had 2 rebounds with a net rating of 0.

Adams played 1:32, scored 0 points and had 0 rebounds with a net rating of -4.

Kanter was a big part of the reason the Thunder were still in the game late in the fourth quarter.

Second Meeting Against the Warriors (Feb. 27)

Kanter played 17:49, scored 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting and had five rebounds with a net rating of +1.

Ibaka played 40:41, scored 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting and had 20 rebounds with a net rating of -1.

Adams played 28 minutes, scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting and had 9 rebounds with a net rating of +5.

Fourth Quarter

Kanter played 4:13, scored 7 points on 2-of-2 shooting and had 3 rebounds with a net rating of +4.

Ibaka played 6:07, scored 2 points on 1-of-3 shooting and had 2 rebounds with a net rating of -9.

Adams played 5:27, scored 0 points on 0-of-1 shooting and had 1 rebound with a net rating of -6.

Enes Kanter in 4:13 scored 7 points with 3 rebounds

While the Thunder seem to be one of the Warriors biggest challengers this postseason, Golden State exposes OKC's lack of versatile options. OKC is deep in the frontcourt, but the Warriors small-ball lineups make the Thunder dig deep into there already short-handed guard and wing positions.

The Thunder would like to play Adams or Kanter alongside Ibaka all the time, but the Warriors have an affect on doing so. Meanwhile Kanter has actually been effective off the bench and in spurts against the Warriors.

So why not give more minutes and ride him out in the fourth quarter along side Ibaka?

In the second meeting between OKC and Golden State, the Warriors elected late to go with the "death lineup". Anderson Varejao was substituted for Iguodala, however, the Thunder stuck with Adams at center before eventually switching him for Waiters. The Warriors then went on a run and eventually sent the game into overtime.

Adams played in OT just for the tip off then was immediately sent back to the bench. Kanter didn't play a second in OT. But Singler and Roberson were both on the floor in overtime.

In Overtime

Singler played 4:13 scored 0 points and had 0 rebounds with a net rating of -7.

Roberson played all 5 minutes scored 4 points on 2-of-3 shooting and had 1 rebound with a net rating of -3

The Warriors stuck with Green at center, so Donovan had two options 1) Match up small (without Durant) and go with your best perimeter defenders or 2) go big and hope you can beat them with size.

Donovan elected to go small with perimeter defenders, but next time how about going big with Kanter and Ibaka in crunch time to have two players who can run the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop game with Durant and Westbrook. And out of Kanter and Ibaka, whoever is being guarded by Green shouldn't be the screen-setter. Make someone else switch onto Durant and Westbrook. Then the shooting guard can be Foye, Roberson or Waiters. Yes, Durant fouled out but having Westbrook, Waiters, Roberson, Singler and Ibaka on the floor as they did in OT had the Warriors only concerned with two, maybe three players. Substituting Singler for Kanter adds another player the Warriors have to worry about.

Kanter will only help the team offensively while also controlling the glass. As we all know the Thunder's fourth quarters offense seems to disappear.

Maybe to close out games more consistently the Thunder should elect to go with more offense.

2014-15 NBA Season Game 60
@
42-19
(Lost 1)

54-5
(Won 6)
March 3, 2015
Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA
9:30 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: TNT
Injury Report: Festus Ezeli (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Feb. 3 (L 108-116), Feb. 27 (L 121-118)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Stephen Curry
Andre Roberson SG Klay Thompson
Kevin Durant SF Harrison Barnes
Serge Ibaka PF Draymond Green
Steven Adams C Andrew Bogut