The Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs were a combined 79-3 at home during the regular season. That's a 96.3% winning percentage. The Thunder just won four straight games against these two teams. This is getting very, very real.
The Thunder have turned on their jet engine of destruction by shortening their rotation and allowing their stars to take over the game. They are young, huge, hungry, and downright nasty. Their small forward is seven feet tall. Collectively, their starting front line of Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Steven Adams measures 20 feet ten inches tall. They have an eight inch advantage on the Warriors' starting frontcourt of Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, and Andrew Bogut. Eight inches might not sound like a lot, but some people in the world are damn proud of their..umm...I mean...okay moving on.
Right before the half, Stephen Curry hit a ridiculous off balance three to put the Warriors up by 13 points. It was the type of controlled-demolition-brilliance we've seen from Steph all year.
As a Warriors fan, that moment felt pretty good. Alright, they had this. Just another half, and the Dubs would be up 1-0. No biggie. No big deal. Right? RIGHT?
Instead, Russell Westbrook finally showed up, guns blazing, and put up 19 points in the third quarter. The Thunder clawed their way back into the game and then used a vice-like defensive performance in the fourth to win the game. The Warriors, after being outscored by ten points in the third quarter (38-28), managed only a paltry 14 points total in the fourth. Steph's last made shot came with 4:28 left in the game. Perhaps it was his lingering knee injury, perhaps he ran out of gas. Perhaps it was Westbrook's manic defense. Either way, everyone holding their breath for Curry's inevitable end-game brilliance ending up dying from lack of oxygen.
And yet, the Warriors are only down one game.
Memories: they are fun and handy. Remember when the Warriors were down a game not once, but twice last season? The true danger of this team is their ability to adapt. Winning the championship, followed by winning 73 games, was no fluke. Steve Kerr, Luke Walton, and Jarron Collins will adjust. They'll watch film, and they'll adjust.
But I'll say this much: I fear this Thunder team much, much more deeply than I ever feared the Grizzlies or the Cavaliers. They have two of the top five players in the league in their prime playing on the same team. They've been to the Conference Finals four times in the last six years. They are younger than the Warriors, and they playing with their backs against Durant's impending free agency.
[peeks around the corner]— Tom Ziller (@teamziller) May 17, 2016
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both younger than Steph Curry.
[disappears in a puff of smoke]
Thunder played 8 guys. 1 of them (Foye) is over age 27.— Tom Ziller (@teamziller) May 17, 2016
Warriors played 10 guys. Only 4 (Klay, Dray, Barnes, Ezeli) younger than 27.
They've been around for so long that it is easy to discount their sustained relevance. If they hadn't suffered horrible injury luck, or if they hadn't traded Harden, or if Scott Brooks' offense had been slightly more imaginative, the Thunder would probably have their title already. However, that being said, let me reiterate: It is only one game.
Before the series, I was ecstatic that the Warriors would face the Thunder. As a basketball fan, I still feel that way. I think this series is going seven. I said it going in and I still believe it. It's going to go seven games and the final game will go into, like, one bazillion overtimes with at least three truly earth shattering moments. In the end, something so transcendent and unprecedented will occur that the internet will break, the NBA will call off the Finals, and we'll all somehow wake up fifteen years later with no memory of the passage of time. We'll have benevolent alien overlords. The memory of Game 7 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals will have been written out of the history books. Our benevolent alien overlords, seeing how deeply shattered we were by the whole experience, will make sure that we can't hurt ourselves any further.
Mark it down.
It's time to put away the kid gloves. This is the Western Conference Finals we all deserve.