The Warriors return to the court in OKC on Tuesday night to take on the Thunder, and not a moment too soon.
As a player of pickup basketball, I know the best thing to do after you get dunked on: you pick the ball up, throw it back inbounds and get set for the next play. The quicker you get the ball back in, the less time the guy who just threw down in your face has to celebrate before you put him back on defense and drain a jumper in his grill. In some ways I wish this game would have happened Monday, if just to avoid the pour of hot takes that have come through the airwaves in the last 48 hours. From #KickGate to the Draymond/Russell beef, ESPN and Twitter have had plenty to talk about. The good news is now we get to get back to playing basketball.
The Warriors are on rare group this season - facing adversity in the hands of a road game with their season odds on the line. This is not an elimination game, but it sure feels like one. Going down 3-1 against a hot team with all the momentum feels like a huge hole to dig. The Thunder will be looking to put the strangle hold on Golden State, while the Warriors will be looking for a statement response game to take the advantage back to Oakland and regain the home court advantage.
Nobody said this playoff run would be easy - many argue that the best three teams in the league are coming from the West in the form of the Warriors, Spurs and Thunder. Notice the Cavs are not on this list - days ago we were arguing the Cavs might go undefeated into the NBA Finals and now face a 2-2 tie going back to Cleveland after being swept up in Toronto. Good teams are beatable, we are talking about the league's best. Nobody expected a sweep of the Thunder, but nobody would have preferred the odds that now face the Warriors to overcome.
This good news? Not all hope is lost. We take a look at a few reasons that Warriors fans should not start making their Summer plans just yet:
The Warriors have faced adversity in the playoffs before - last year in both the Grizzlies and Cavs Series
Last time I checked, the Warriors did not sweep their way through the playoffs last year. They lost big home games in both the second round and the Finals, having to dig themselves out of holes both times. We all know how that ended up, right?
The Warriors are a veteran team with deep fantastic talent. You can shake them - and the Thunder did just that. Golden State completely abandoned their game plan when the pressure was turned up. They took ill-advised shots, and Steve Kerr was quick to point it out. They started to play hero ball instead of run the high powered offense that got them to this point in the season. Combine that with a tough OKC home crowd, and you got a 45-point third quarter walloping to put them away. As many say though, a one point loss means as much in the playoffs as a 30 point loss. The final score means little - do we all remember losing to the Rockets in Houston in Game 4 last year?
This team is gritty, self aware, and has the leadership to overcome. If you want proof, read Draymond's Playoff Diary from The Undefeated.
The Warriors have not lost back-to-back games ALL SEASON LONG
That point could stand alone with no explanation. In a season where the Warriors were historically good, they did get blown out a few times. Hell - they lost to the Lakers. That should count for two losses, no?
We want the Warriors to be perfect, but the NBA doesn't play out that way. The Thunder has some extremely good talent. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are two of the top 10 players in the league. They are supported by a solid cast of scorers, rebounders and talent that make the team hard to challenge. You can't lay down on these guys.
But maybe Game 3's loss was what the team needed. Back when the Warriors were living the dream on the winning streak to start the season, many quoted that a loss would actually do more benefit for the team than to keep winning. Adversity creates desperation, and desperation creates focus. Golden State got to roll over the Rockets in the first round, and were pushed in the Portland series primarily because of a lack of Steph Curry. They now face the league's elite, and a slap to the face is what it might take to wake up the roster.
There are adjustments left to be made
Everyone be happy the team does not have to answer the question of who will take the minutes of Draymond Green. Instead, the team can look at it's full roster and wonder what tweaks and adjustments can be made to match up better against this Thunder team. Here are a few suggestions:
- Start Iguodala instead of Harrison Barnes: I love Harrison Barnes in the starting lineup, but you need the defensive presence on Kevin Durant to start the game. You can't let him get in the zone early, and you know he is going to play 40 minutes. Make his first 20 just as hard as his second 20. Plus, Barnes still needs to find his shooting touch, and going against Dion Waiters might be the way to get it back for him.
- Start Festus Ezeli instead of Andrew Bogut: Andrew has felt completely out of place in this series, and is being exploited on the pick and roll. He refuses to come out on the high screen, and even with the adjusted defense to not cover Andre Roberson, he is still caught in the middle and out of place. Ezeli is a detriment on offense, but he can be hidden more when playing with the ones instead of the twos.
- Maybe the Death Lineup is not the best for this series: After the death lineup got trounced in Game 3, it might be time to retire it for a few days. The Thunder have too many bigs they can throw in that are hybrids and make this match up tough. Serge Ibaka can run small and Steven Adams is not your typical big man. The Death Lineup can take out Cleveland's small ball set, but you might have to go traditional against the Thunder.
- Start making shots! Maybe no adjustments have to be made. Maybe the Warriors need to start converting on fast breaks and open jumpers. Maybe there is no fix to be made - maybe staying the course is all it will take.
Down time between games means more time to think the worse. The Warriors are not facing elimination, and are not in rare air. They are facing a tough Game 4 on the road with momentum on the line. If they lose, they head home having to win the next three to move on. Tough? Sure, but when you have two home games in there, not impossible.
As Tim Kawakami said, "The Warriors are going to have to win one on the road, either Game 4 or Game 6." We can now face the possible reality this series might go 7 Games, and as a Warriors and NBA fan, I'm ready for the rollercoaster. When the tip off jumps tonight in Oklahoma City, also remind yourself that you get the joy of watching elite basketball with the team you have enjoyed watching all season long. The great news is that this team is good enough to overcome.