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Game 4 Preview: Thunder hope to continue smallball success vs. Warriors

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Big is out, small is in!

Giddy up!
Giddy up!
W. Bennett Berry

Game 1 saw the Thunder steal a win, riding the back of a fantastic Westbrook game. Game 2 saw the Warriors comfortably put away the Thunder at home. OKC went big and switched on screens, allowing the Warriors to exploit mismatches and win easily. But Game 3 had the Thunder responding in kind, as they thrashed the Warriors in Oklahoma City.

Smallball is the way forward

While Game 1 felt like a lucky miracle, the Game 3 victory felt definitive. For the first time in the series, Billy Donovan gave extended looks to lineups with Durant at the four. And it worked magnificently, as the Thunder's smaller size gave them more versatility on defense. Furthermore, the increased quickness of the lineup did wonders for the Thunder's transition game. Adams, Kanter, and even Ibaka got time at center. We did see a bit of the ultra big Adams-Kanter lineup during the first quarter, but it wasn't very successful. The Warriors are just too good at spacing the floor and getting open shots.

Moving into Game 4, I'd expect Donovan to continue to try and go small. Waiters and Roberson can handle the extra minutes, and Kanter can go down to about 16 minutes per game. Playing Ibaka at center will be important as well, because it really engages Ibaka with the offense. It was nice to see Ibaka get in a few pick and rolls, like he did way back in the day.

How to use the stars

The Thunder also kept KD's turnovers to a minimum during Game 3. Durant had just 1 turnover then compared to 8 turnovers in Game 2. Durant's greater opportunity to work in transition, as well as the better overall passing of the Thunder team, really did wonders for KD's game. Westbrook took perhaps too many shots from three and the wings in Game 2. But Westbrook really concentrated his shots around the top of the arc in Game 3, and it paid off.

On the other end, the Thunder were doing all they could to stop the Warrior superstars from succeeding from three. Klay Thompson shots just 2 of 8 from three, while Stephen Curry shot 2 of 10. Curry specifically was able to succeed from inside the arc. Curry went 5 of 5 from mid-range, mostly exploiting mismatches. Meanwhile, Klay Thompson had to deal with the stout defense of Andre Roberson in the half-court, and couldn't generate any points in ISO situations. Klay was 0 of 3 from mid-range, but rather successful at attacking the basket. I'd expect Klay to continue to be an inside threat as long as the Thunder continue to run small and defend the three.

How tonight will go

The smashing was so complete in Game 3 that it's hard for me to imagine the Thunder having an off night. But I shouldn't underestimate the ability of the Warriors to rebound and adjust. Draymond Green will undoubtedly be more of an offensive force than he was last night, unless the smaller lineup really hampers his game. And at least one of Klay or Curry is going to heat up from three. And Roberson won't go 3 of 5 from three every night. Honestly, Game 3 is close to the absolute best we can hope for.

But let's hope that the other role players can continue to step up. Steven Adams with his great defense, hustle, and blocks. Waiters with his fearless drives to the basket and second unit management. Kanter with his presence on the boards. And Foye, who plays passable defense. As long as all of these guys continue to fill their roles and the Thunder don't commit too many turnovers, it's hard to see OKC losing. But you never know what Kerr might have up his sleeve....

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 117, Golden State Warriors 108.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2016 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Finals Game 4
(Thunder lead series 2-1)
(Thunder lead series 2-1)
May 23rd, 2016
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
8:00 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: Turner Network Television
Injury Report: A Clean Bill of Health!
The Series So Far: Game 1 (W 108-102), Game 2 (L 91-118), Game 3 (W 133-105)
Probable Starters
Stephen Curry PG Russell Westbrook
Klay Thompson SG Andre Roberson
Harrison Barnes SF Kevin Durant
Draymond Green PF Serge Ibaka
Andrew Bogut C Steven Adams


Who's going to win tonight?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    The Oklahoma City Thunder
    (257 votes)
  • 30%
    The Golden State Warriors
    (114 votes)
371 votes total Vote Now