The only way to beat the Warriors when they are healthy and focused is to not make mistakes and never relax. Execute for the full 48 minutes, even when they are playing better. Take advantage of any opportunity to wrestle control of the game, because those will be scarce.
That’s what the Thunder did in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. They trailed for the first three quarters, but whenever it looked like the Warriors were going to break the game open and run away with it, the Thunder responded. Then, in the final period, they grabbed a lead and held on to get a fantastic win on the road.
Yet, being perfect for seven games is impossible, as it became clear in Wednesday’s Game 2. The Thunder kept things close for 30 minutes and looked threatening, but that was before Stephen Curry exploded for 15 points in two minutes in the third quarter.
That run is a testament to Curry’s greatness, but it’s also a perfect encapsulation of what makes the Warriors so tough to beat. They push opponents until they wear them out and put them away as soon as they finally slip.
The Warriors focused on exploiting two weaknesses for most of the game. They knew the Thunder’s big men would switch on most screens involving Curry, and they knew they could leave Andre Roberson open to have an extra defender loading up on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder did a great job of not letting those two issues hurt them too much for almost two and a half quarters, but they let their guard down for a brief moment. Before they knew it, they were down 20.
Then, the Warriors left Roberson again and finally sputtered the Thunder’s offense, resulting in a turnover.
Curry had his layup blocked on the ensuing fast break and got tangled up with Durant under the rim, but as KD relaxed, Curry got up, sprinted to the corner and launched a three off a Green pass. Durant, trying frantically to catch up, fouled Curry on the shot and his frustration resulted in a technical. The Thunder were rattled.
Durant answered with a jumper, but instead of getting into a scoring duel like any other star, Curry made the right play the next time down the court. He anticipated the Thunder’s trap, so he passed to Bogut, like he had done for most of the game. The Warriors moved the ball and once again took advantage of Ibaka switching onto Curry.
Westbrook tried to get the ball to Durant on the next possession but with two non-shooters on the court in Roberson and Adams, the Warriors could afford to gamble. Bogut anticipated the pass, trapped and got the steal. The ball found Curry, who launched a pull-up jumper in transition that swished through. After that, the Thunder called a timeout and pulled Roberson. Suddenly, they were down 17.
They still couldn’t score after that. On the other end, Curry patiently used a Green screen twice before hitting another three-pointer, as Adams and Durant never decided whether to switch or trap.
And that was it. The Thunder were no longer in the game. Instead, they were down 20. That was a wrap.
Nevertheless, the previous two and half quarters still mattered. The Warriors kept up pressure on the Thunder’s weaknesses until they eventually reached their breaking point. They landed several body blows, and once the chinks in the armor started to show, they made their move.
That’s what the Warriors do to everyone. They push and push on both ends until even the most methodical of opponents start making mistakes. Once that happens, they unleash the most potent weapon in basketball. It’s over.
Don’t blame the Thunder for letting up. It takes a tremendous amount of focus to avoid a string of errors for a full 48 minutes under so much pressure, and it’s even harder to stay calm once those mistakes start having a tangible negative effect. To their credit, the Thunder did just that in Game 1, and they can certainly do it again. Sometimes, the Warriors get overconfident and assume opponents will eventually crumble instead of making it happen. The series isn’t over. It was just one game.
But Game 2 clearly showed that the Warriors have found the weaknesses in Oklahoma City’s game plan. They will patiently, but relentlessly continue to try to exploit them. Even when Roberson hits some shots and the Thunder’s defensive switches stay tidy, the Warriors know the mistakes will start appearing at some point. They’ve seen it happen before — 84 times, in fact.
There’s no much the Thunder can do schematically to adjust. Benching Roberson is untenable; they have a short rotation already and Roberson is one of their best defenders. The defensive strategy is sound because no one can stay with the Warriors’ shooters without switching. The only thing they can do is to simply try to be as close to perfect as possible for three of the next five games.
Anything short of that won’t be enough against an opponent that is always ready to take advantage of even the smallest mistakes.
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Nobody can stop Golden State’s deadliest play