Believe it or not, it was exactly one month ago today that the Thunder finished off the Dallas Mavericks with a 108-70 game 1 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both shot 7-15 from the field, and the Ibaka/Adams/Kanter trio combined for 29 rebounds as the Thunder jumped out to a 26-11 lead after the first quarter and never looked back. Indeed, after Game 1, there was nothing left to see. The admirable Mavs deserved credit for limping into the postseason, but this one was over.
Two nights later the series was tied at one game apiece. The Mavericks had stolen home court advantage with a stunning 85-84 victory on OKC's court. It turns out the 38-point margin of victory for the Thunder in Game 1 actually meant nothing, as the worst basketball night of Kevin Durant's life was the cue for the basketball universe to dust off the narrative about the "same old Thunder's unreliable 4th quarter offense." Even if they beat Dallas, common sense dictated that this OKC team would be substantially over matched by the Spurs in Round 2.
And that’s exactly how it happened. In game 1 LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard couldn’t miss, and San Antonio’s 124-92 victory signaled the end for Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City. The Thunder would probably steal a game at home, but this one was over.
Two nights later the series was tied at one game apiece. In a still-incomprehensible series of events, the Thunder handed the Spurs only their second home loss in 45 games. Once again, a Game 1 blowout involving the Thunder somehow didn’t carry over. It somehow only counted for a single win. OKC had taken back home court advantage and provided a cue for the basketball universe to dust off the narrative about the "old Spurs" who couldn’t hang with OKC’s athleticism. And that’s exactly how it happened.
It’s not unreasonable to think that against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, the Thunder could be involved in a blowout. That isn’t necessarily a pessimistic view or statement on the series itself, but the variance associated with a team that, according to Basketball-Reference.com, took (and made) more 3-pointers than any other team in the league is high enough to assume that a high point differential is likely when they play any team in a seven-game series. It’s nothing personal against the Thunder. It’s just a statistical likelihood. The Warriors have now completed 6 playoff series spanning back to last season, and 4 of them have featured Golden State wins by 20 or more points. Only last season’s Pelicans and this year’s Blazers have avoided garbage time against the Warriors altogether. During the 2015-16 playoffs, the Warriors’ average margin of victory has been 16.1 points, and in each win they are hitting 12.8 three-point shots. That is 12.8 three point makes per win during a playoff season where they have mostly been without the services of the greatest long-distance threat the league has ever seen.
Conversely, during both the regular season and this playoffs this year, the Thunder have given up about two additional three-point makes per game in losses than they have in wins. OKC’s 9.3 opponent makes per game in losses could conceivably be doubled multiple times during this series, which could lead to at least one not-very-fun night for the Thunder and their fans.
But it will be nothing more than that: just one night.
In the event the Thunder lose big in any game, but especially in Game 1, Donovan will all but replace the actual game tape with film from Game 2 of the Spurs series – the game in which the Thunder completely erased a blowout loss with a single, sustained 48-minute push of their own. The Thunder, perhaps more than any team in this year’s playoffs, will enter the Western Conference Finals fully aware that Game 1 is 1 Game – nothing more and nothing less. A Game 1 victory over Golden State might shake ESPN to its core, but would mean nothing if the Warriors are able to come back and go up 2-1. 73-win teams know a thing or two about winning multiple games in a row.
And if Golden State rolls tonight? It might not be fun, and everyone will say this one is over. But much like in rounds 1 and 2, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be only 48 hours away from a chance to change everything – again.