In the first part of our Q&A with Welcome To Loud City, we focused primarily on themes that affected the Thunder's matchup with the Warriors.
In today's installment, we look at how the Thunder beat the Spurs and what we might be able to learn from that.
Below is additional insight from Bobby Chancellor as we continue to look ahead to Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Western Conference Finals.
Bobby Chancellor: There were three main things that really impressed me, and it's hard to say which was most impressive, but I'd probably go with the defensive consistency. Outside of Game 1 and Westbrook in Game 3, everyone on the team locked in on that end of the floor. Even Enes Kanter, who has long had a reputation for being a complete sieve, was coming up with big defensive plays. This Thunder team was a middle of the pack defensive team during the regular season, but has really gelled into a great unit. If you watched the closeout Game 6, that first half was one of the best defensive halfs I've seen from them ever, including the year they went to the Finals.
I think winning two games in San Antonio, after they went 40-1 at home in the regular season, deserves a mention as well. Not letting the Game 1 blowout get them down was big too. But I definitely think the defense was most impressive.
GSoM: Russell Westbrook averaged more than 10 assists per game and had an assist percentage of 53.7% against the Spurs while leading the playoffs in assists per game, assist percentage and usage. Yet there continues to be a negative perception of him. What do you make of how he's playing right now and his evolution as a distributor?
Bobby Chancellor: I'm not really sure why people have such a negative perception of Westbrook. It's true, he can let his game get out of control sometimes. But even in the horrific Game 3, most of his shots weren't bad shots. I believe he had 17 shots at the rim that game, he just missed a lot of them. He took far too many 3 point shots, but he has scaled that back some since.
Westbrook is really the motor that turns this team's wheels. Durant is incredibly efficient almost always, you usually know what to expect from the role players, but if Westbrook is focused on both ends, this team goes up several tiers. He breaks down defenses so well and with such speed that sometimes his own teammates aren't prepared. A lot of his turnovers come from passes that are a step ahead of the intended recipient because they didn't move as fast as Russ.
The most important thing from Russ this series is how he plays defense, though. I suspect he will start out on Curry, and because he has a habit of relaxing in transition, I could see Curry finding some easy opportunities from deep. I'd almost be inclined to put Roberson on Curry, Durant on Klay, and hide Russ on Barnes, but I'm interested to see how the starters play against Golden State first.
GSoM: (Fun bonus question) On a scale of 1-10, how scared would you be of KD leaving if the Thunder lose this series to a team that is known to be interested in him?
Bobby Chancellor: Honestly, I think beating the Spurs sealed his return here, so I'm going to go with a 2. Here's why: financially, it makes sense to return to OKC, at least for two years or so. There are very few teams he could go to and have a better surrounding group than OKC (GSW and SA, really). I think he is too proud to join a team after losing to them. I know the saying goes "If you can't beat them, join them", but I think KD would be ashamed to do that.
Think about what he has here right now. He and Russ are the old men of the rotation guys — Steven Adams is 22, Enes Kanter is 23, Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson are 24, and Serge Ibaka is 26. Add on a promising rookie PG, a couple of rookies/sophomores on the bench with potential, and this team is set up to contend for years. I don't think he is going to leave the chemistry here just to form a super team; I think he would see that as taking the easy way out. I could be wrong, but I really expect him to be here next season.