Last night, the Thunder defeated the San Antonio Spurs to advance to the NBA's Western Conference Finals, where they will meet the Golden State Warriors. Riding a surprise surge after getting blown out in Game 1, the Thunder used a combination of lethal scoring and bruising size to render the Spurs' magical season meaningless. Well, maybe meaningless is a tough word. You don't win 67 games and have a meaningless season. But, this wasn't the WCF match that most people predicted.
All year, the talk of the NBA had been Warriors vs. Spurs. On and on and on. The two teams seemed destined to meet in the conference finals, but then the Thunder came along and rewrote the script. Kevin Durant went off. Russell Westbrook went off. Enes Kanter and Steven Adams played out of their minds. Somehow, Dion Waiters was not only relevant, but revelatory. Billy Donovan made adjustments and Gregg Popovich failed to properly respond.
I know, life is crazy.
We'll get deep into predictions and all that, but I wanted to take a moment to quickly look at the matchups. This will be a very, very interesting series.
Note: I'm going off the Thunder's Game 6 starting lineup that was so very effective.
Stephen Curry vs. Russell Westbrook
Oh lord, here we go. Right off the bat. I wrote about this in some depth (sorry for all the missing vines and videos -- life is impermanent and art inevitably disintegrates over time) last year. I'm sure everyone already has their opinions on this matchup, but Curry vs. Westbrook is going to be LIT. The league's best player versus the league's most athletic and dynamic player? I'm all in. Curry is an alien, Russell is a remnant of a former age when humans settled disagreements with Thor hammers and primal rage-fests.
Klay Thompson vs. Andre Roberson
Though Roberson had the game of his life in the series clinching Game 6 (14 points, three made three point shots, stellar defense throughout, a +/- of +12), the fact remains that the Warriors will most definitely treat him like a Tony Allen stand in. Will we see Bogut guarding Roberson right from the tip of Game 1? Probably not, but it's definitely in play. Klay, on the other hand, retains the defensive ceiling of Roberson while also, you know, hitting shots like a boss.
Harrison Barnes vs. Kevin Durant
/takes a deep breath
/chokes, stops breathing temporarily. Needs a shot of something strong.
Draymond Green vs. Serge Ibaka
This will be a fun matchup. In reality, Draymond will face Kanter and Adams as much as Ibaka. The front court chess match between Steve Kerr and Billy Donovan will decide this series. Can the Warriors whip out their Small Ball Death Hammer Balls Of Death lineup against Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, and Serge Ibaka? They'll get KILLED on the boards. I am low key terrified. But, without going all the way into that, let's limit ourselves to Draymond vs. Serge. At one point, Serge developed a three point shot and the NBA shuddered in fear. The four headed monster of Westbrook, Durant, James Harden, and Serge shooting threes and blocking fools like Tim Kawakami on a twitter rampage seemed poised to go on a 90's Bulls-like run. Alas, alas. Draymond has basically become a better version of what people assumed Serge could become. Now, people look at the Warriors, shudder, and assume a dynasty is in the making. Time goes on, strange things happen. Note: Serge has, like, five inches on Draymond but Draymond doesn't care.
Andrew Bogut vs. Steven Adams
Assuming Andrew is healthy and plays meaningful minutes, this might be my very, very most favoritest matchup of the series. Imagine the shit talking!! Imagine all the strange references that people from the northern hemisphere won't understand!! Imagine all the nationalistic threats, the Australia vs. New Zealand craziness. Oh man, I CANNOT WAIT for this. I'm not alone. There's an entire thread on NBA reddit dedicated to this exact matchup. My hair is tingling and my spine is standing on edge.
Advantage: Ummmmmmmm. Damn. Thunder? Because Adams is younger? I have no idea. This is almost a tie.
Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights (MO BUX, aka SP8S COWBOY), Anderson Varejao (lol) vs. Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters, Randy Foye, and...that's about it.
So, here's the thing. The Warriors' second unit could start for about half the teams in the league, including a few playoff teams. The Thunder have tightened their rotations, and really only trotted out a three man bench in Game 6 versus the Spurs. Kanter and Adams playing together can be bruisingly transcendent, and Waiters has the potential to have a #HotFire game, but can the Thunder bench really hope to hang with the Dubs' deep core? I say no way. Get that ish out my face.
Steve Kerr vs. Billy Donovan
Donovan really came into his own in the Spurs series, but let's be real. He is not Steve Kerr. Kerr has been a part of six championship teams. Donovan won a couple of NCAA titles in Florida (shout out MO BUX, aka SP8S COWBOY). But Donovan is still nailing down his vision and his rotations. The Warriors will be sure to expose certain elements of OKC's defense. When Kanter and Waiters are in the game, watch for the Warriors to attack them mercilessly. Plus, we've got future-Laker Luke Walton and future-whatever-he-wants-to-do-the-guy-is-crazy-smart-and-talented Jarron Collins.
As I see it, the Thunder only have one cut and dry advantage in the series, and his name is Kevin Durant. You can't gameplan for seven foot with the handle of Allen Iverson, but the Warriors will sure try. We'll see how this all plays out when Game 1 starts Monday in Oakland.