I was trying to find a word or phrase to accurately describe the beatdown the Thunder just put on the Warriors, and I simply couldn't find a word adequate. So instead, I looked to video to find an accurate method for expressing the magnitude of the whipping OKC gave Golden State. Here are a couple of possible choices I found (all courtesy of Top Gear's YouTube channel):
Got the picture? Good.
Now, let's look at what adjustments were made (besides just playing better) to achieve such an annihilation.
1) Small Lineup
Coach Billy Donovan employed a small-ball lineup in game 3 that he had only used for 4 minutes in the playoffs prior to game 3. That also came in this series, and the lineup was a spectacular failure, with a NetRtg of -62.2. Oh how things can change. In game 3, this lineup played 12 minutes and finished with a NetRtg of 98.7! No, that isn't a typo. The group smothered Golden State on defense (DRtg of 47.2) and smoked them on offense (145.9).
So how was this group so effective? There were a couple of reasons. The first is that everyone contributed. In game 2, Roberson, Waiters, and Ibaka were all completely ineffective. Westbrook also struggled to score but contributed through his distributing. In game 3, Roberson and Waiters both finished with 13 points, while Serge finished with 14. The 40 combined points came efficiently too: 52% shooting from the field, and 46% shooting from 3.
The group was thriving off of lighting fast runs akin to those Golden State often puts up. In the last 6 minutes of the first half, this group was used for all but about 40 seconds. In those 6 minutes, Golden State was outscored 22-5. In the third quarter, the group played a 3-minute stretch in which it outscored GS 12-3.
How were these runs made so quickly? OKC was thriving in transition. During these two runs, OKC was getting shots up after GS misses or turnovers in an average of 8 seconds! For a team that often takes up to 16 seconds just to initiate the offensive set in the halfcourt, these transition opportunities led to easy baskets or FTs (OKC went 11-12 from the line in the last 6 minutes of Q2).
I believe that this lineup is a testament to just how volatile this series has been. Both sides are making continual adjustments and both coaches still have many cards up their sleeves. The individual games are coming down to which coach has the best set of cards. While Steve Kerr was making adjustments (moving around defenders to take advantage of Roberson), Donovan made counter adjustments (making Roberson more involved on offense). In this game, Donovan had the better set of adjustments.
Let's look at some key plays from that small lineup.
Serge Ibaka is so far ahead of this play that he has already collapsed the Warrior transition defense. Curry can't leave him, and Klay Thompson is forced to help out as well. Andre Iguodala loses Durant trying to anticipate the pass out to the 3-point line, and Durant ends up as open as possible in a 3 on 4 break. Russ is just so incredibly quick that the entire defense has to keep an eye on him and fires a pinpoint pass, allowing Durant to find a gap for the dunk.
Here, OKC seems to have worn GSW out. The defense is still getting set with 7 seconds off the clock. Dion Waiters gets an isolation on Draymond Green up top and gives him the slightest fake into a crossover. Green looks to be stuck in concrete and Dion blows by for a nice, controlled finish. The help defense is relaxed slightly, as they think the transition threat is over. Kudos for Dion for catching them napping.
These types of 3-point shots can be a killer for either team. We used to see Durant hit these all the time, but more often than not this season, this shot has rimmed out. This time though, it drops, and the arena simply exploded with noise. The transition defense of Golden State was so discombobulated at this point that no one even tried to step up on KD.
Again, that one player (so hard to remember the names of scrubs) Draymond Green gets blown by on the perimeter. Here, Westbrook and Durant run a weave of sorts and succeed in getting the defense into a mess. Dion gets the ball with the defense lulled into another false sense of security, and he simply drives right past Green for a dunk. Waiters was very good this game of playing the complimentary guard role. He seems to thrive in that position where he can take advantage of mismatches without being forced to create every possession.
All of Golden State's "great defenders" were getting abused this game. Durant hits Iggy with a slick behind the back dribble to get a wide open lane. Green slides over, but rather than go up and contest a shot, he reaches in and grabs KD's arm. Again, look at the shot clock here: only 4 seconds have run off by the time KD has broken down the first defender. The rest of the defense expects to have more reaction time than this, and they pay the price for being slow.
This time, the actual basket comes just 4 seconds into the shot clock. Golden State tried to push the ball, but Durant is there to block the layup at the rim. Westbrook was a bit slow getting down court, and as a result had position for the fast break. These are the kinds of plays that go either way: if Barnes kicks out for a 3, we complain about bad transition defense, but because Durant saves the play, we get a great OKC transition finish.
Yeah, you probably knew I couldn't write about this game without talking about Roberson's offensive contribution. But I think it's a legitimately important adjustment that was made. There was a lot of talk about him being unplayable after game 2, but as Durant said, they just needed to find ways to make him useful. Donovan found several ways to make this happen.
The important thing I see here isn't the made 3-point shot from Roberson, it's the ball-screen he sets. Rather than being stationary in the corner or setting off-ball screens all game, Roberson was active in the high-screen game. We saw this some in the overtime loss during the regular season, but it had mostly gone away this series. Klay ends up behind the play, and while the defense does collapse, Russ has two options that are open here: Roberson up top and Waiters in the corner. The initial action (the screen up top) is what allowed Russ to break down the help defense. The made 3 was icing on the cake. Oh, and by the way, they run this to give Roberson the second easiest 3-point shot in the game: straight in line with the hoop. He only shot 3 of these all season, but has gone 2-2 from there in the playoffs.
Here, Westbrook misses Roberson under the basket the first time, but redeems the play by breaking down the defense and kicking to Robes in the corner. Roberson gets that one guy to bite on the pump fake, and drives in for a nifty left-hand finish.
This set is something I've expressly called for to get Roberson involved, and it's an adjustment I liked from Donovan early in the season. Rather than leave Roberson the shooting guard in the corner, Donovan inverts Roberson with Ibaka, who is the stronger outside shooter. The PF becomes the SG and the SG is the man in the lane ready to receive the dump-off pass.
However, where Billy Donovan outdid me here is by having Roberson set a pin-down screen on the baseline first. Both Barnes and Bogut go out to Durant (a decoy on this play), meaning that Westbrook can get an easy 3 on 2 at the rim. Roberson gets that scrub Green in the air with the fake, and he gets an easy reverse layup out of it.
It's really interesting to me that OKC ran plays to get Roberson above-the-break 3 point shots. He was simply terrible from this spot in the regular season, but has been hitting them in the playoffs. This is the closest thing to a pick-and-pop that Roberson has ever run, but I guess he had the hot hand at this point (I never thought I would get to write that...).
Roberson is oozing confidence at this point. Normally, if he catches the pass off balance like this, he isn't going to shoot. Even with the shot clock winding down, he generally would kick out to Foye here. Not this game, however. There is no hesitation at all before taking this shot, and I love it. For it to be the basket that breaks the 100 point mark (with 16 minutes left in the game) is even better!
The defensive switching in this game was MUCH more intelligent. At times, it makes sense for OKC to switch off of screens. However, it was very rare to see a 1-5 switch, and when it did happen, Serge was generally playing center. If the situation dictated a 1-5 switch with a different center, OKC generally ran some kind of trap, forcing the ball-handler to make a pass through a tight window.
Durant can't keep up with Klay around this screen, forcing Adams onto him. However, rather than looking confused, both players know exactly where the passing lane is here, and because they have great length, they force Klay into leading the pass too far. Durant also does a good job of feigning the double before getting back on the roll man to contest the catch.
I really like what the defense does on this possession. Roberson doesn't want to hand off Klay to a big man here, so he waits until Ibaka and Durant switch before moving to Curry. Both Serge and KD do a good job of mucking things up in the paint, and Green throws an incredibly dumb pass to the scrum for a turnover. Russ hustles like mad and makes a great save to Durant to finish off the play.
Again, the switches made here are incredibly well thought out. Dion and Foye trade guys around two screens, allowing them to keep guard-on-guard. Dion then passes off Livingston to Russ (guard-on-guard). Despite Green and Ezeli being involved in the play here, none of the guards allow GS to force a big-on-guard switch. Green isn't going to beat Durant off the dribble, and he throws the ball out of bounds.
The Scrub Named Draymond Green
I really debated including this, because I don't like to waste space in articles. But in true Westbrook fashion, I ended up saying #WhyNot and adding this section.
Draymond Green was hot garbage in game 3, with his only notable impact being made with his right foot. Here's a video of that:
Oh, you mean that's actually a video of an NBA player losing a 3 point shoot out to a short comedian who isn't even good at his day job? On national television, no less? My bad, guys.
What kind of "good defensive player" fouls a jump shooter on a desperation 3 at the end of the half?
Open 3-point shot? Let's almost airball it!
I have an idea for Donovan. Let's leave Draymond wide open for 3's! He may be worse at this than Roberson is. Or perhaps he wasn't intentionally aiming for the hoop here, but rather for Varejao underneath, and the contact made with the rim was incidental.
In Green's defense, layups are the hardest shot in the... oh wait, NBA players finish at 60% here? My bad.
Durant even gave Green a mulligan here, but the results were about the same.
Contested layups too difficult? No worries! Green will just commit an offensive foul to get an open one. Surely he can't miss that. Oh, you mean he did?
At this point, I think this is considered bullying. Layups are hard enough for this guy when open, you don't have to go and block them.
And to think that there were Golden State fans saying that anyone who would take Westbrook over Draymond obviously didn't understand basketball. I can't speak for anyone else, but no one in their right mind would say Draymond was more valuable than Russ. Sorry, not sorry.