Golden State Warriors (26-5) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (17-17)
Oracle Arena - Oakland, CA
7:30 p.m. PST
TV: CSN BA (local), NBA TV (national) | Radio: KNBR 680
Buddy blog: Welcome to Loud City
With team success comes the highlighting of individual talents. Would Stephen Curry be getting this much ink spilled for his MVP case if the Warriors were a .500 team? Draymond Green and Klay Thompson as All-Star candidates or the Most Improved Player? Marreese Speights a Sixth Man of the Year candidate? Probably not.
Curry's and Thompson's and Green's continued improvement as well as Speights' emergence are key reasons why the Warriors have shot out to a league-best 26-5 record while playing without the invaluable Andrew Bogut 11 times. 26 wins. Five losses -- just one at home, to the San Antonio Spurs way way back on November 11, 2014. You have to go back nearly two months -- and turn back the calendar to 2014 -- to find the last time Golden State fell at Oracle Arena.
On Friday, the Warriors crushed the then-East leading Raptors 126-105, using a second-half barrage of defensive stops and scores to bury the Raptors. It was savage small-ball, a typical burst of a ferocious Warriors team that this year has played akin to a shark that smells blood in the water. Draymond Green finished with his first NBA triple-double, 16 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, as he was able to take advantage of 4-on-3s with the Raptors frequently trapping Curry with two players at the top of the floor.
"One thing teams have been doing a lot recently is trapping Steph Curry, and I was able to make plays and find guys in position [to score]," Green said afterward. He added that this season "Coach Kerr has challenged me to take my game to a higher level."
"Draymond has to be mentioned for a lot of different [awards]," Coach Steve Kerr said. "He would have my vote for the All-Star team. He represents who we are as a team, with the versatility and his toughness."
The defensive philosophies of the Warriors
They're all really good, in their own way. I take a look at what they did in the Toronto Raptors game.
Tonight, the Warriors take on the Thunder for the second time at home. On December 18, the Dubs withstood Kevin Durant's monster first half and made a comeback to earn a hard-fought victory in what was shaping up to be the game of the year. Durant scored 30, a display that looked not like something happening during the flow of an NBA game but during a private shooting session, and Curry matched him shot for shot in a back-and-forth frenetic first half. Fortunately for the Warriors (and unfortunately for the fans), Durant injured his ankle and missed the second half of that game, opening the door for the Warriors to seize control.
Durant is back now, healthy and hungry for revenge and to get the Thunder back in the playoff race. Here's how crazy the Western Conference is: Oklahoma City would be tied for sixth in the East, but they are 10th in the West at 17-17. With Durant, the Russell Westbrook experience, and Serge Ibaka, OKC is never out of a game. They've been beset by injuries this season, but as the Warriors know, they're a handful.
One thing that will be key for the Warriors to extend their 11-game home winning streak to a dozen tonight is their perimeter defense, especially on Kevin Durant. Despite his best efforts in the last matchup, Harrison Barnes could do nothing to rattle Durant, who went 10-13 in that scorching first half; Barnes will have to play better defense against the 2013-14 MVP. Durant likes to pull up in transition, and it will be important for Barnes, Thompson, Green, Andre Iguodala, and whoever else takes a turn on him to get physical and not let him get clean looks at the hoop. Of course, that's much easier said than done.
Another key will be the matchup between Green (and Marreese Speights) and Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has always been a handful on the defensive end, leading the league in total blocks each of the last four years. This season, Ibaka has limited players to just 41.9 percent shooting at the rim, per NBA.com/stats -- the lowest figure for players who've played at least 25 games and averaged at least 30 minutes and a block per game. Green and Speights will have to be able to hit threes and mid-range jumpers to draw Ibaka away from the paint. On offense, Ibaka has added a corner three to his repertoire, and the Warriors' forwards must be able to wrest rebounds away from him in the paint but also be able to contest his outside shots.
Hopefully, both the Warriors and Thunder will finish tonight with healthy participants. Judging by the results of the first half of the last Warriors-Thunder matchup, with both Durant and Westbrook healthy, it'll be a game-of-the-year candidate if that happens.
Thunder are 9-2 (.818) with both Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook this season. Only Warriors have a higher win pct overall this season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 3, 2015
- Curry goes for 33 points and 11 assists and Durant scores 34.
- Russell Westbrook scores 24 and Klay Thompson puts up 22 points.
- Draymond Green goes for yet another double-double, 15 points and 13 rebounds.
- Another Warriors-Thunder matchup comes down to the final moments.
- 114-111, Warriors.