1. Let’s all give Stephen Curry a round of applause. He is having the greatest single season in NBA history, and moreover, arguably the greatest season in all of sports. Since the all-star break, Steph has been carrying his team. What this means is that, while the Warriors still aren’t losing games, they are not even playing at an optimal level. For example, tonight the Warriors made fourteen three-pointers, twelve of which were made by Curry. And while this is actually more made three-point shots than the Warriors average, the disparity in who made three point shots is evident, as the rest of the team truly struggled on offense.
  2. Part of this statistic can be explained by the Thunder’s defensive strategy. They did what the Cavs did last year during the finals, and what Milwaukee did earlier this season, force Curry to beat you. Adding to that, they also played ball denial on Steph. This strategy, frankly, was effective. And if Kevin Durant did not make two stupid fouls – one to close regulation and his sixth in overtime – this gameplan may be what we are discussing tonight. Nonetheless, KD’s fouls did happen, and we are talking about how Steph Curry is unstoppable.
  3. With that said, though, Billy Donovan made some crucial coaching errors, all of which centered around Kyle Singler. First, Donovan made a conscious decision to not play Cameron Payne and Anthony Morrow. This is unfortunate because both players provide more offense off the bench than Kyle Singler, and furthermore, that would have really helped against the Warriors’ bench tonight, who outscored the Thunder’s bench 31-20. Secondly, the Thunder insisted on switching Kyle Singler unto Steph Curry down the stretch. This is a mind-boggling decision, especially when the Thunder have great perimeter defenders, such as Westbrook, Morrow, Roberson, and even KD.
  4. The Thunder did prove a lot tonight, though. For one, and this harkens back to the first OKC-GSW game, the Thunder provide a difficult matchup for Golden State. This is mainly because of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and OKC’s length. To elaborate, Kevin Durant is the second best scorer in the NBA and a better defender than Steph, Russell Westbrook is the best playmaker in the NBA and an efficient passer, and the Thunder have the necessary length to switch on pick-and-rolls. These three things coalesce in a way that gives the Warriors nightmares. And honestly, in a playoff series, I would bet it goes seven games (assuming Kyle Singler never touches the court).
  5. With that said, tonight has imprinted one thought on everyone’s minds: the Warriors are going to win the finals this season. Now, I don’t believe that is true, and frankly, this game showed the Warriors are beatable. The Cavs’ defensive strategy against Golden State in the finals last year worked for most of the series and again tonight. I don’t know if the Spurs have the offensive firepower to win a series against the Warriors, and I’m not sure Cleveland is strong enough mentally, but the Thunder absolutely have a chance.
  6. Regardless, the Warriors are a great team, and it is because they are versatile enough to play against anyone. Moreover, their death lineup is unbeatable. When Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green share the court Golden State beats opponents by 49.1 points per 100 possessions. Moreover, since NBA.com has collected lineup data, that is the highest net rating by 13.1 points (the 2008-09 Blazers had a lineup of Steve Blake, Rudy Fernandez, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Joel Pryzbilla that had a net rating of +36). The Warriors’ small ball, death lineup is dangerous because of two separate factors. First, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green are all borderline elite defensive players. This allows for significantly easier switching, albeit at a cost, where they give up easy points to offensively-competent centers. This leads to the second reason, which is that this lineup is elite offensively, averaging 1.44 points per possession. Consequently, some team will need to figure out how to stop Golden State’s death lineup, or the Warriors will win the championship for a second straight season.
  7. This lineup’s dominance was evident tonight. The Warriors were down 96-85 with 4:37 left in regulation, and Andre Iguodala checked in for Livingston, thus creating the death lineup. After this point the Warriors outscored the Thunder 36-22. Oklahoma City had no answer to stop this lineup, although, they did try. In overtime the Thunder played small, while playing Kevin Durant and/or Serge Ibaka at the center position, albeit to no avail.
  8. Therefore, what if the answer is to beat the Warriors before they can even play this lineup. The Thunder came about as close as possible to doing so tonight, however, they relaxed after gaining an eleven point lead in the fourth. These mental lapses have been a problem for OKC all season, and frankly, Golden State will punish teams for making similar mistakes. As I wrote about in our last Power Rankings, due to the Warriors’ offense, they have a much higher margin for error than other teams. This cost the Thunder tonight.
  9. So outside of defense, switching on pick-and-rolls, and the duo of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, what did Oklahoma City do well tonight? In short, rebounding. If there is one clear advantage the Thunder have over the Warriors is that the former do not allow other teams second-chance shot opportunities. The duo of Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams ensure the Thunder win nearly every rebounding battle, and tonight was no exception, holding the Warriors to four offensive rebounds, six less than their season average. This prevents Golden State from maximizing their efficiency, as well as increase the Thunder’s margin for error by creating a dearth of second chance shots.
  10. Nevertheless, even in the face of a massive rebounding disadvantage, a weaker starting lineup, and few matchup advantages, the Warriors still found a way to defeat the Spurs. And, in short, here is how:

Well, that’s all from me tonight. I hope you enjoyed what was arguably the best regular season game since last year’s Cavs-Spurs bout. Talk to you soon.

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