There's plenty to dissect from Games 1 & 2 of the Western Conference Finals and with a long break before Sunday's Game 3 in Oklahoma City, you can bet there will be plenty more said about what has happened and what's to come over the next few days.
But basketball is ultimately a simple game. And I think Coach Nick of BBallBreakdown summarized one of the more significant aspects of this series with a simple comment in his analysis of Game 1: "Creating more possessions and putbacks is vital in a game between two evenly-matched teams."
The Oklahoma City Thunder were the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA this season and it's easy to imagine why that makes them so dangerous: the Thunder were third in the league in eFG% and first in second chance points per 100 possessions (15.8 2nd chance points per 100 possessions), meaning they were not only efficient but also turning the misses they recovered into additional points. In short, when you have two of the top five MVP candidates creating scoring opportunities, having players around them cleaning up their misses at the highest rate in the league makes your team painfully difficult to stop on a regular basis.
Accordingly, the Thunder dominated the boards in their regular season series with the Golden State Warriors — as much as I've seen and heard people try to dismiss the Thunder's rebounding during the season series because they lost, they were winning until the final seconds of the overtime thriller in late February and were tied with the Warriors in the fourth quarter of all three games.
So what would happen if you took away the Thunder's offensive rebounding? Well, we got a taste of that in the Warriors Game 2 rout of the Thunder.
Early in Coach Nick's breakdown of Game 2 (posted above and available via YouTube here) he had Nate Duncan go through the offensive rebounding stats. And if you're pressed for time, here's the TL;DR (or "DW"?) version: the Warriors' dominance of the boards — and ability to limit the Thunders' second chance opportunities — helped them take a lead into halftime despite shooting a rather pedestrian 46.8% in the first half.
Screenshot from "Thunder At Warriors Game 2: Kevin Durant Shut Down In 3rd" (via BBallBreakdown).
While Nate Duncan focused on the first half, the Warriors had established a 34.1% to 18.9% advantage on the offensive boards by the end of Game 2 and held the Thunder to just five second chance points off of seven offensive rebounds.
On the one hand, I'm hesitant to take much from Game 2 because I don't think the Warriors are 27 points better than the Thunder; on the other hand, we probably can say that if the Warriors continue to dominate the boards in this fashion they'll win this series more easily than many people predicted.
Why did the Warriors dominate the boards?Stat of the game:
Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead summarized the rebounding story thus far in the series in simple terms:
Stat of the game:
Game 1 offensive rebounds: Thunder 10, Warriors 8
Game 2 offensive rebounds: Warriors 15, Thunder 7
Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut had 0 offensive rebounds combined in Game 1; they had three each in Game 2. A sense of urgency? The Warriors wanting - and needing - it more facing the prospect of an 0-2 deficit? Where was this effort in Game 1?
Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman elaborated on the uncharacteristically poor rebounding performance by the Thunder.
OKC typically kills opponents on the offensive boards. Instead the Thunder got killed. The Warriors had 10 first half offensive rebounds and 15 in the game, an opponent high in these playoffs.
Seven of those offensive rebounds came from Golden State's big man combo of Andrew Bogut, Ezeli, Anderson Varejao and Marreese Speights. In Game 1, that foursome only had a combined two offensive rebounds and four points on 1-of-3 shooting, getting severely outplayed by OKC's bigs.
But in Game 2, they combined to go 13-of-14 shooting for 33 points. Adams, Kanter and Ibaka went 8-of-17 combined for 16 points.
Erik Horne of The Oklahoman focused more specifically on the offensive rebounding of Steven Adams (11th during the 2015-16 season — 12.5%) and Enes Kanter (1st — 16.7%) in Game 2, which made a big difference in those final numbers.
Adams and Enes Kanter – who've combined to average 6.6 offensive rebounds per game this postseason — had just two. Kanter had none.
"They were just a lot more aggressive," Adams said. "They sent guards in there. Obviously, you had the bigs in there, (but) as soon as you hit the paint, the bigs have to go help, you release from your man, he gets position. Especially the guards as well. They're looking the wrong way, their guards go in … (Shaun) Livingston … they get offensive rebounding position."
The Andre Roberson problem
In addition to keeping the Thunder off the boards, the Warriors have turned Andre Roberson's lack of shooting ability into a weakness they can exploit.
Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News noted that Roberson is one of three players in the series to put up a negative plus-minus in both games of the series thus far.
OKC definitely has a Roberson problem–the Warriors just aren’t guarding him, using either Green or Bogut as roaming zone defenders (even more drastically than they did vs. Tony Allen last season, I think) and that puts too much pressure on the four other Thunder players out there to create openings.
But the Thunder needs Roberson out there for defensive minutes on Klay Thompson, or else they’re throwing Foye or Dion Waiters out there on Thompson, and that’s a problem, too.
Likewise, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman elaborated on just how much of a liability Roberson has been by looking at the on/off numbers.
There's got to be something the Thunder can do with a limited, but left-alone, offensive player. If not, Donovan will have to sit Roberson... if the Thunder is going to switch on every screen, what difference does it make if Roberson is on the floor? The Warriors just run a pick to get Serge Ibaka or Adams or Kanter on the ball, then go about their business. In 36 minutes with Roberson on the court this series, the Thunder has been outscored 100-70. The Warriors have made 39 of 71 shots with Roberson on the court, which is 55 percent. In the other 48 minutes that matter (the fourth quarter of Game 2 doesn't count), the Warriors have made 33 of 85 shots, 39 percent.
Stephen Curry's flurries
While more focused rebounding effort and exploiting Roberson might be enough to earn the Warriors a second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, it becomes almost impossible to bet against them once you start to account for Steph Curry's magical powers.
Sam Amick of USA Today documented the experience of watching Curry's third quarter performance while at Oracle Arena, giving us a play-by-play description.
Midway through the third quarter, when the "what-did-he-do-now?" wunderkind went off for 15 points in the span of 118 seconds...The Kevin Durant foul on the right side 3-point attempt, when his technical foul marked the beginning of their end and led to four free made free throws; that deep left wing three that was just filthy, Curry turning his head while the ball was still in the air to shoot Serge Ibaka a steely look; the transition jumper where his foot was barely over the top-of-the-arc line; the left wing three, when Draymond Green fended Durant off and Steven Adams didn’t get there in time. That, in a nutshell, is the Curry experience. Blink at your own risk. You just might miss something you’ve never seen before.
Tramel further put Curry's explosiveness in perspective: he scored 24 points in a little more than three minutes.
Curry scored 28 points and barely played in the fourth quarter. He took just 15 shots, making nine. All his damage came in flurries. Nine points in a 75-second span in the first quarter. Fifteen points in a two-minute span (actually 1:58) of the third quarter. Curry played almost 30 minutes, and for 27 of those minutes, he scored four points. For those 27 minutes, the Thunder got after the NBA MVP with tenacity...But those three minutes and 13 seconds beat the Thunder. The first quarter spree, OKC could live with. The third quarter, spree, no way.
FanPost of the Week: Can OKC bounce back against GSW as they have against the Spurs?
ScipioTheYounger wrote a pretty detailed FanPost (as usual) about how the Thunder have managed to bounce back from blowout losses in the playoffs against the Spurs both in 2012 and 2016. Although it isn't directly about the Warriors, it does make you wonder if the Thunder will suddenly lock in this time around too.
Personally, I neither see the Warriors letting up on the rebounding this series overall nor the Thunder making the Warriors pay for ignoring Roberson. As a result, I'm more confident about the Warriors winning this series than I was before it started.
Other news & notes
- Not that Tracy McGrady appears to be someone who will let facts get in the way of his hot takes, but Reuben Fischer-Baum of FiveThirtyEight used actual facts about the actual world we live in to establish that this is quite a competitive moment in league history.
- From a really insightful look at small ball from Hakeem Olajuwon at the Players' Tribune: "I just feel bad for whoever has to guard a guy like Draymond Green right now. He reminds me of a 6'10" Gary Payton."
- Bobby Chancellor of Welcome To Loud City made a point in his breakdown of Game 1 that I still think could aid OKC in competing in this series: "If we can make Barnes be the play-maker like this, our defense is going to have a lot of success."
- Matt Zemek of The Comeback wrote an interesting piece looking at how (and whether?) the old mantra that you live by the three and die by the three applies to Steph Curry.
- James Holas wrote a beautifully incisive comparison of Curry and Westbrook for BBallBreakdown that is worth a read now even after the series has started.
- David J. Roth's piece at Vice Sports about the struggle to wrap our heads around Curry's dominance is one of the best things written about Curry all season.
- You probably heard at some point this week that Draymond Green watches the WNBA to help improve his game. But his support of the game extends beyond self-interest: Adam Grosbard of the Dallas Morning News reports that Green chatted with fellow Michigan State alum Aerial Powers to offer some advice on how to approach her rookie year in the WNBA.
There are certainly other links, tweets, vines, and videos that I have missed, so feel free to drop links from this morning in the comments, create a FanShot with links that we can share on our social channels, or write a FanPost if you have a longer commentary to share with the community. There has almost been so much great content in the community sidebars and I've been trying to just refer you there during rather than making these posts any longer with them — please rec the ones you really like so we can promote the best ones to the front page.
And since Kurt Rambis has reminded us all that people other can actually view your "likes" on Twitter, feel free to check up on what I've been keeping track of during the week by following me at @NateP_SBN and letting me know what I've missed.