The Thunder have looked indestructible at home this month. The crowd infuses nitro into an already superior rebounding team. At Chesapeake Energy Arena, Russell Westbrook goes into killer-cyborg mode before he kicks the brakes off his teammates and starts firing assists. Durant performs like he's shooting by himself in the comforts of his personal home gym. And here, Andre Roberson is a household name. It's safe to say that the pace and high-stakes of the sixth meeting will make this game a very draining experience. Additionally, the Warriors just pulled out a close, physical home win after being tornadoed off the court in games 3 and 4.
As the team flies back to OKC for the biggest fight of this young core's career, a coach or spectator has to wonder how the Warriors will sustain an efficient passing game under the pressure of their circumstance and hostile audience. Can the Warriors be cerebral there and take care of the ball well enough to trump their disadvantage on the boards?
Last year, the Warriors won a championship by going small against the Cleveland Cavaliers. This time, they may need to go big to compete for one. The roaring crowd can cause distraction in a fast break clash. The pace of this game is unfamiliar ground for the Warriors, because Golden State is used to always dominating the speed instead of matching it.
* If the Warriors can take away the Thunder's advantage on the boards, then they can afford to make more mistakes sharing the ball. In a passionate clincher, living and dying by efficiency may be a tough bet.
1 - PG / Stephen Curry
2 - SG / Klay Thompson
3 - SF / Draymond Green
4 - PF / Festus Ezeli
5 - C / Andrew Bogut
6 - SF / Andre Igoudala
7 - PF / Harrison Barnes
8 - PG / Shaun Livingston
9 - C / Mo Speights
10 - SG / Ian Clarke
1st Substitution - Igoudala for Ezeli / Green slides to PF
2nd Substitution - Barnes for Green
3rd Substitution - Livingston for Curry
Draymond Green - There are two major changes here, and it starts with Green at small forward. Draymond is the best defensive option against Durant for Golden State. He has the lateral speed to challenge the drive, he's long enough to contest, and he's strong enough to defend KD in the post. Green would provide a free-range rebounder and help defender.
"Don't consider me a power forward because you are taking away what I can do as a small forward."
- Draymond Green
Green has the athleticism to play small forward in this league. With serviceable, stout swingmen like Jared Dudley doing well, it's hard to say otherwise. Draymond could force Durant to defend more, driving the ball at him with Festus and Andrew cleaning up or squeezing hustle points from drop-off passes. This would also eliminate Ezeli as the primary roller off the screen for the 2nd unit.
Everyone knows that Festus can't catch that pass. Passing to Ezeli with velocity in traffic is always a risky proposition. The Warriors were forced to do that too often at CE Arena, and it was ammunition for a landslide. Instead, the 2nd unit will pass to Speights on the pick-and-roll, and Mo does well in those situations.
Festus Ezeli - He can guard Serge Ibaka. The length and raw athleticism of Ibaka is problematic for our smaller front court matchup. Durant's length really penalizes the Warriors here when starting 6'7 Draymond at power forward. Ezeli can bang out some of those extra possessions that keep the Thunder's rhythm seemingly one step ahead of Golden State's. Adams is a terminator, and it's taking every bit of Andrew's body to go up against this young machine. Festus neutralizes that power and sandwiches it under the glass. The Thunder then rely on Roberson and Westbrook to crash more, and that cleans up some better fast break touches for the Warriors. Think of Fez as the Warriors countering Andre Roberson here - a specialty, energy role.
Defensively, his ability to come out on Ibaka is legitimate. Ezeli's soccer shuttle can pull him back to the rim when Russell Westbrook slashes at Andrew Bogut. This defensive length in the paint will force Westbrook to pass out of layups more and tempt him to kick it back out towards half court to an open Ibaka. That's good transition opportunity.
Festus can mitigate the scorer better on the weak side angle because his close out speed and explosiveness is greater than his ability to time shots. With Durant, he will help on those long, gathered, Euro-step takes. The problem with KD's drives are not that they beat you with speed; Kevin just knows when to put the ball where you can't contest it. But a lot of times, it takes him a moment to set that up. Festus can cover a lot of ground for a defense if there's already a shot blocker back. With Bogut stationary, focused on protecting the goal, the interior shot contesting and power of Draymond and Festus could cut OKC down to size.
Marreese Speights - He's big for Shaun Livingston's confidence, and deserves huge reserve minutes after his play in Game 5's victory. The Warriors need to value and capitalize on the possession to beat the Thunder on the road. Speights at center means less dropped passes, less mishandles, more big shots. Igoudala and Livingston, when handling the ball, would have three shooters to pass to: Barnes, Mo, and Ian Clarke.
Harrison Barnes - HB has been showing life lately. With an understanding that he could come off the bench and make a huge difference while Durant, Westbrook, or both rest, Harrison might be pushed to a greater purpose. Speights and Barnes stretch the floor and force Kanter to leave the rim. It'd give the ball handler (Livingston, Igoudala) more room to make plays. Livingston can really benefit here, if he wants to look for some offense on the block.
**The Warriors need to make Klay Thompson their number one scoring option in Game 6, not Stephen Curry. Clearly, the two-time MVP is still the master, but Thompson is riding the momentum of a shutdown series against the Portland Trailblazers, and a huge quarter on the road in Game 5, when he single-handedly kept the Warriors in the competition. Curry is coming off of an injury, rest, and a couple of shaky games handling the ball.
The smart move might be to go aggressively with Thompson and challenge the MVP to follow suit. As the pace picks up, Klay's accuracy will as well. He's an efficient volume shooter. Hopefully that gives Curry some breathing room, allowing him to enter the scoring party at his pace, perhaps later in the first half.
The element of surprise is most useful when you anticipate a disadvantage. If the Warriors could shock the Thunder long enough to bring the series back to Oakland, then it may be worth a try. Steve Kerr said it best: "Defensive stops and rebounding."