Tonight the NBA’s Western Conference Finals start, where Oklahoma City will match up against the Golden State Warriors and it’s going to be a hell of a series.
Why? It’s because these two teams have had very interesting seasons. The Golden State Warriors were the best offensive team in the league, by a long mile, and they notched one of their greatest regular seasons in league history. The Warriors were able to win 73 games. That in itself is historic. And they owned the Thunder, which included all 3 match ups they had with them this season. Outside of that, they’ve quieted the Thunder in 39 of 41 attempts on their home court.
The Warriors are known to be at their best in their transition game. That side of their offense is one of the most efficient in the league. The Warriors had the third-highest points per possession (PPP) in transition. They scored 1.16 PPP on transition opportunities.
That’s what makes their offense so dangerous because they are efficienct and do it volume. Impressively enough, these transition opportunities make up 17.5% of their offensive possessions. Though 3rd in the league, that’s a far higher efficiency rate than the two team ahead of them, their Eastern Conference counterparts, the Raptors and Cavaliers.
They also have a versatile defense making the Warriors even more dangerous, with Draymond Green holding the fort. They were not as efficienct as last season dropping from 101.4 last season to 103.8 this season, but it’s still one of the best records. Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Green are all excellent defenders, and despite league MVP Stephen Curry not being the most physically imposing player, he makes up for it and can hold his own weight on the D.
There is a reason the Warriors most lethal line is called the “Death Lineup”: Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Barnes and Green. This lineup has outscored opponents by 44.4 points per 100 possession during the regular season. A record not easily to be triffled with or overcome.
But that’s where the challengers come in. They are the obvious underdogs in the Western Conference Finals. The Oklahoma City Thunder know this and if they’re smart they can keep using it to their advantage. 3rd in the conference they surprised the San Antonio Spurs by riding on the backs of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They rose to the 2nd best offense in terms of offensive rating. And these two players were more than capable of bearing the load and look up to the challenge.
Westbrook has an unique ability to get to the basket, and with Russell’s play quantity is better than quality because the more the shoot, the more points can go in.
He averaged 10.1 drives per game during the regular season. Westbrook’s shot over 50% on field goal attempts from drives and had one of the higher assist percentages among those in the top 10 in drives.
When you look at Durant, he is a well rounded player who is proficient in almost every area of the offensive game, but stats show that his scoring in isolation is one of the more impressive records.
In isolation scoring, Durant manages to score 0.99 PPP, which puts him in the 85th percentile. Durant is able to score in isolation despite the opposition knowing exactly what’s coming and think they know where he’s going.
The Thunder have had some defensive struggles in the regular season and even in the playoffs, notably Game 1 of the series against the Spurs. But since the Thunder, have picked up their D-game and have started to contain the roll man well.
Everyone in the game knows, the ‘Curry-Green’ pick-and-roll is one of the most lethal two-man combinations in the NBA. Curry’s shooting and passing ability combined with Green’s ability to score at the rim or make plays for teammates is beyond comparison.
In the regular season though, the Thunder gave up only 0.95 PPP to the roll man in pick-and-roll situations, which is the 3rd-best record in the league. Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams are two of the better pick-and-roll defenders for the Thunder and know how to stop that flow. The break it down by one defending the roll man, and the other is skilled enough to protect the rim at a pretty high level of efficiency. So the Warriors won’t be able to run that play as often.
The Thunder have two 5-man lines that have put up some impressive numbers. That refers to Westbrook-Andre Roberson-Durant-Ibaka-Adams, who have a net rating or points scored per 100 possessions minus points allowed per 100 possessions; of +18.1 in over 800 minutes this season.
The Westbrook-Dion Waiters-Durant-Ibaka-Kanter lineup has also been impressive, outscoring opponents by +18.7 points per 100 possessions this season. They might sound like minor stats but these kinds of series are won in the details of the game.
That’s what both the Thunder and Warriors will have to do, take a close look at the micro to take advantage on the court. The playoffs are a different animal than the regular season, where these two teams met three times, with the Warriors coming out on top all three times, but if experts and fans have learned anything from the Spurs series, it’s that anything can happen in the post-season, and this series is likely to go to seven to be won.
Whatever the case, the series and especially Game 1 is going to be darned exciting.
Our Pick Game 1: Warriors over Thunder, 115-106