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Preview: Thunder at Warriors

Oklahoma City matches up against Golden State and looks for the upset at Oracle

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Season series: GSW 3-0 vs. OKC

Times are quickly changing in the basketball universe. Strange signs, as the cosmos rearrange and the old gods make way for the new. Kobe has decided to relieve the NBA globe from his back, for the wider-shouldered Stephen Curry. Destiny seemed to magnetize Golden State and San Antonio together for a final face-off of titans. But the Spurs shot themselves in the foot on the way to the fight.

After 67 wins, and a chance to ride away on chariots of fire, the Spurs will miss the grand shootout and crawl away without even a 3rd round bang. While Timmy and Manu prepare for the afterlife, Pop finds himself in a somewhat precarious place after verbally agreeing to stick around for Aldridge.

The bottom line: The Spurs have cheated the Warriors out of a revenge that would have quenched the thirst of being slapped around from pillar to post for the past two decades. Longing to mark SA's final chapter with defeat, the satisfaction of beating the best possible opponent, has vanished...Or has it?

Styles make fights

Tim Duncan clumsily lumbered on the floor over a 10 game stretch before San Antonio's elimination. Averaging 21.8 minutes a game, it was clear that Duncan just couldn't quite get to the right places on the court the way he could even a year ago. Parker is no longer the deconstructionist on the drive. He used to be a serrated army-ranger blade, searing white-hot from the fire. OKC made him look a bit more like the Swiss army knife your aunt uses to clip her toe nails.

Parker vs. Thunder

(Not bad - but Tony was arguably the fastest player in the league with the ball in his hands, and the most lethal at the rim)

Emanuel David Ginobili implored his body to allow him to be the hungriest competitor on the floor. He begged it a warrior's dying wish, but it just croaked, "No." Ginobili will make thirty-nine on July 28th, and he's no longer able to occupy the minds of opponents with his relentless explosiveness as a closer.

"If there's a reason why you always want to come back and keep being part of this, it's because of the amazing chemistry, the good times and the good people that you play with and spend time with. It's not always about winning a game or winning a championship. It's been an amazing run." - Manu Ginobili

Elite coaching has a way of putting talented, high-chemistry teams on cruise control during the regular season. But when the best meet the best after the 82nd game, pace and intensity dictates the outcome even more. Russell Westbrook's reckless style showed us that militant discipline doesn't always reign supreme on the playoff court (playoff avg - 25.5 PPG, 4.3 TOV). This is why the Thunder pose the biggest threat to the Warriors.

Pace, Pace, Pace

The distance of the Warriors' fast breaks are abbreviated - and this is why they blow teams out of the water. After achieving a defensive rebound, the Warriors need only to run 60 feet before they reach their red zone. With two shooters (Klay, Curry) on each side of the break, the Warriors can keep the defense in limbo as they arrive to the distance between the half-court circle and the three-point line. Almost every other team must run to the dotted circle (70-75 ft), feet before reaching their red zone. This is why the Thunder present a more dangerous matchup.

Russ Westbrook is not Darren Collison or Ish Smith, respectively. He's a mutant ninja. The finishing ability, matched with the unparalleled speed, bumps OKC's capability in transition to an echelon above 80% of all NBA teams - it even rivals GSW, despite the Warriors' advantage in shortening the court.

NBA Fast Break leaders

Kevin Durant

KD complements Russell in transition because he provides the same sort of rangy, efficient, moving target that Klay or Curry would - and he's fast. Those long strides take Durantula to the same red zone our shooters seek, while he's every bit the finisher Westbrook is. He gives OKC their own amped version of a two-point pressure attack on the fast break. When our transition opportunity evaporates, we can take it to opponents in the half-court with our passing game.

Conversely, Oklahoma can give you problems with their Isolation offense when their break is quelled. They have two of the best one-on-one scorers in the league, not named Stephen Curry.

"Look, we're not the San Antonio Spurs. We're not going to make 30 passes in a possession. Of course, people want us to be that. That's great basketball, don't get me wrong. But we're not that. We've got guys that can score. We've got two guys on this team that can get a bucket. There's going to be times we gotta iso, there's going to be times we gotta be aggressive to look for our shot to make a play.

But basketball is simple when you got a guy that can get into the paint. That's what San Antonio wants to do, but they've got guys, multiple guys that'll pass, pass, dribble, to get to the paint. But we've got guys -- Russell, myself, Dion, Cameron Payne -- we can get into the paint, kick out or dump down for a layup. That's ultimately what you want: get the defense off balance, drive, kick, make the right play -- simple basketball. But we just don't make five or six passes before we do it sometimes. And that's not a knock against us, I don't think. We've got dynamic guys that can play and do different things on the floor; I think that's to your advantage."

"When you have iso players and guys who can score as many points as Russ and me, you've got to live playing some iso ball. What do you want? Just pass the ball around and not be aggressive? If they're looking at me and Russ is open, he gets the ball. But if I've got it, I'm going to work. Iso. It's pick your poison."

Kevin Durant

Steven Adams & Enes Kanter

The 7-foot bash brothers present a problem in the possession game...

(Warriors' rebound differential avg. in the 9 regular season losses: GSW: 44 Opponent: 47)

Steven Adams averaged a double-double during the Thunder's 6-game series over the Spurs. (11 ppg / 11.8 Rpg / 4 Orebs)

The 22 year-old Maori hammer anchors OKC's style when the game slows down, and he plays with the sort of ferocity that tips the balance when the going gets rough. New Zealand and Australia are neighboring islands, and homes to Adams and Warriors center, Andrew Bogut. Both nations from down under will be cheering their heroines during the conference finals. But, while Bogut's status remains "questionable" for Game 1, the Warriors will look to Ezeli. This could work to G-State's advantage.

Enes Kanter might give Draymond the biggest challenge of his post-season career yet. In a game where Portland was good enough to beat Oklahoma City, Enes Kanter still managed to score 33 points, (13-18 FGs) and pull 20 rebounds (9  offensive rebs). Enes has half a foot and 10-15 pounds on Green. With Kanter diving to the rim or popping to the elbow, it's going to be hard for Green to leave him and execute the sort of help defense he did so masterfully against Portland.

Festus Ezeli

Andrew Bogut might be the better player, but Festus has the quicker feet. That will pay more dividends than usual when recovering on defense to meet Russell in the lane.

While trade rumors involving the Lakers swirl around the Dub's Nigerian masher, Festus knows, that much will depend on his ability to retreat to the paint when Westbrook tucks in his chin and charges. Adams is a very violent center. Ezeli can match his affliction while preserving the ailing Bogut for a championship series. If there were an ideal time for Andrew to go down, it's now. Ezeli has found his confidence and health after being involved in a narrow 4th quarter victory during Game 2 against Portland.

* I firmly believe that in this series, Ezeli is the better man to pair with Draymond against Kanter and Adams, given the Warriors decide to set up their offense through Green as a point-forward. Ezeli can bang with "Jaws," and for a center, Fez has exceptional ability closing out on a shooter. Kanter is rangy and can also give you physical buckets inside. Festus has the defensive versatility to make the switch on either Enes or Steven, and play them well.

Dion Waiters

Waiters played very well against the Spurs, and he's ready for the Warriors. Weighing a legitimate 220 lbs, the compact scoring guard has the strength to keep Thompson out of the post, and mitigate Klay's plans to use his size as an inside advantage. But like McCullom, Dion lacks the length to bother Klay on closeouts. Incidentally, Jerry West was in love with Waiters' game during the 2012 draft, and it's not hard to see why. With Klay taking the lion's share of reps against Russ, Stephen will see the powerful Waiters on the defensive end, and may have a hard time redirecting his drives without fouling.

Like Harrison Barnes, Dion has shot a low percentage this year, but has shown up as an X-Factor for some big games.

Regular Season:

Washington Wizards - Win / 7-10 FGs / 25 points

Denver Nuggets - Win/ 6-9 FGs / 18 points

Portland Blazers - Loss / 10-19 / 25 points

Houston Rockets - Win / 7-11 / 17 points

Sacramento Kings - Win / 8-11 / 22 points / +30

Speights luring Ibaka

In a run-and-gun series, Steve Kerr should pepper Speights' confidence and let him know ahead of time that there will be plenty of minutes flying his way with Bogut on the mend. If Kerr can match him up with Ibaka, it will open up the lane and allow the Warriors to mix up their attack. The Congolese shotblocker had a monster game against Golden State on the 27th of February, (7-12 FGs / 20 Rebs / 15 Pts / 2 Blks) and then again in the final meeting of the season between the two clubs. (8-12 FGs / 2-3 3pts / 20 Pts)

* I love Ibaka's game. And personally, if the Warriors plan on trading Festus Ezeli with Luke Walton, I'd rather see them import 26 year-old Serge Ibaka, than anyone on the Lakers not named Jordan Clarkson.

Draymond Green and the transition game

If this series goes the way many expect it to, high-scoring totals and breakneck speed will make for one of the most exciting series in franchise history - going back to the days when Wilt rocked the headband at the Philadelphia Civic Center.

If this is to be the case, the Warriors need to return to Draymond leading the break on offense and defense - pushing the ball, with Klay and Steph manipulating screens when things slow down.

If Draymond Green weren't the MVP of the Portland series, you can count on him to be this time.

Imagine that

Westbrook pulls up from 25 feet and chases down his shot while Kanter and Adams wrestle Ezeli in the key, shoving Barnes away. Out of nowhere, Draymond's hand appears over the rim and he yanks the rebound with one arm - dropping it off to Curry before his Nikes touch the hardwood. Green sprints down the court and leaves OKC's monsters in the dust. Steph sends it back to Dray in stride, and Andre Roberson is the last man standing on the backpedal. They cross the timeline and Green puts the ball on the floor before breaking right, then yanks Roberson back to the left. The move puts Andre on ice and he turns his back to regain some space - but they're already in the paint. The shot is coming, so Roberson jumps. A freight train hits him. "AAAND OOONE!!!" On the way down, Roberson looks up in time to see the ball kiss the glass, and fall through the net as he crashes and slides into the TNT cameraman.

This series will be a contest of lungs, skill, and brains. May the best team win...

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