There remains plenty of sentiment out there that the Oklahoma City Thunder are still the toughest matchup for the Warriors. It’s not a crazy notion, either. Yes, the Warriors completed a three-game season sweep of OKC at Oracle on Thursday night with a 121-106 win, but all things considered each and every game was competitive.
Which is more than San Antonio, Cleveland and the LA Clippers can say because the Warriors have blown out each of those teams once a piece this season on their way to 55-5.
In their three losses to the Warriors, the Thunder have been up nine with 4-plus minutes remaining in the third quarter (Thursday); up 11 with under five minutes remaining in fourth quarter (last Saturday); and tied with three-and-a-half minutes left in the fourth quarter (Feb. 6)
So they’ve been right there, on the one hand.
But it’s unlikely OKC is going to beat the Warriors four times – if the teams do, in fact, meet in the postseason – playing the way it plays. Which is very similar to the way the Cavaliers play.
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant might not be exactly like Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, but they’re close enough to see a pattern. Those might be four terrific individual players but they all have to go too much one-on-one and operate too much in isolation to have consistent success against Golden State.
The Warriors’ halfcourt defense is too good – both individually and as a team – to get beat by one or two players, particularly if those players are mostly creating for themselves. The Thunder and Cavaliers share an inability to move the ball well enough or crisply enough to keep the Warriors off balance for extended stretches.
Bottom line is there are just too many tough shots being taken, too frequently, and too many tough plays that need to be made. On Thursday, Kevin Durant shot the ball well — 11-for-17 from the field — but committed nine turnovers. Westbrook treated the ball OK, but went just 8-of-24 from the field.
Great players like James and Durant, Westbrook and Irving can occasionally win their teams games by themselves – or with just a little help from the other teammate. But that’s not a recipe to beat Golden State in the playoffs. The Warriors have the rare parlay of strong perimeter defenders (Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green (if need be) along with a rim protector in Andrew Bogut.
It’s possible there isn’t a recipe for beating the Warriors, either in the regular season or postseason. After all, they’re now 18-0 against the nine best teams record-wise in the NBA, not counting themselves, of course.
But if you’re going to beat the Warriors, it’s going to have to be a team effort, not an individual one.
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