After earning a split in the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder return to action Sunday night against the Golden State Warriors with an opportunity to regain the the lead in this best of seven series. Most pundits predicted the Thunder would return home needing a win in game 3 just to keep their heads above water, and I can not stress enough how important it is for the Thunder to regain the rebounding edge they secured in game 1 if they want to maintain home court advantage from here on out.
The Thunder also won the turnover battle in game 1 and I have been doing some brainstorming about a possible wrinkle Thunder head coach Billy Donovan might throw at the Warriors on Sunday to recapture that edge. I looked to Coach Nick of BBall Breakdown fame for some ideas. I found this video Coach Nick did when the Warriors were 19-0 in mid-December:
The main idea I took from this video was getting Stephen Curry and Draymond Green in foul trouble, preferably early foul trouble, because the best way to slow Curry is to deny him the ball and parking his narrow behind on the bench is a sure fire way to do that. Not an easy task, especially when Curry is safely guarding Andre Roberson.
So I looked to Coach Nick's take on the Thunder's victory in game one:
Dion Waiters, or as coach Nick put it, Dion "Friggin" Waiters!
I don't know if starting Waiters is necessarily a good idea because he has settled very nicely into his role coming off the bench, but that doesn't mean he has to sit there for over half of the first quarter. The Warriors are going to stash Curry on Roberson as much as possible and it is highly unlikely that Robes will be able to get Curry into any foul trouble because he will allow Andre to take wide open three point shots all night and Roberson is not a very strong ball handler.
Waiters on the other hand will demand attention from Curry and has an uncanny knack of getting past his defender and to the middle of the floor. Considering how well Dion has played in the post season and the solid decisions he has made, getting him in the game earlier and forcing Curry to step up defensively and possibly picking up some early fouls could prove valuable in game 3 and is something Donovan should consider.
Further, it would give the Thunder another ball handling option other than Kevin Durant, whose 8 turnovers (4 in the first quarter alone) in game 2 stand out like a huge wart on the stat sheet. As stated, minimizing turnovers in the second half was one of the keys to the Thunder's victory in game 1 and it is imperative that they continue doing that throughout this series if they want to advance. I did some digging and in the last 5 games Waiters assists to turnover ratio is 5.33, tops of any player on the team, and in the last eight games, six against the Spurs and two against the Warriors, Waiters has posted a 105.5 defensive rating to Roberson's 109.2. Which means his defense has not been the liability it was at times during the regular season.
Bottom line: against an offensive juggernaut like the Warriors, the Thunder need any advantage they can get, and earlier minutes from a Dion "Friggin" Waiters assigned with attacking Curry with the dribble early and often could be just the boost they need.
Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.
- Mark Twain