The Oklahoma City Thunder will face the Golden State Warriors tonight on Reno Avenue in downtown Oklahoma City.
Whether you're a Celtic junkie or season ticket holder for the L.A. Clippers, every NBA fan has kept one eye on the Warriors all season. Now, the entire basketball world will bear witness while asking the question: If the Warriors are eliminated, was the mammoth 73-win season all for naught?
Reasonable people will differ, but Golden State shook the dust off after being mauled by a bear and buried for dead. After patching their wounds, the Warriors are back in the hunt and out to settle the score.
Only 18 teams have won 65 or more regular season games in NBA history. Fourteen of those teams went on to win NBA championships. If the Thunder manage to beat Golden State, they will have beaten two of those 65+ win teams in the same post-season. Conversely, the Warriors will be one of nine teams to ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the playoffs, if they make it out of the round.
Teams to come back after falling 3-1
Rockets beat Clippers, 2015. Western Conference Semi-Finals. Rockets come back after being down 19 points in Game 6 to win in Game 7 and reach Conference Finals for 1st time since '97.
Suns beat Lakers, 2006. The Suns bring it back to blow out the Lakers in Game 7 with a 31-point blowout in the first round. Leandro Barbosa scores 26 points on 10-12 shooting.
Pistons beat Magic, 2003. The Pistons find a way to defuse Tracy McGrady's dominance scoring the ball, and blow out the Magic 108-93 in Game 7.
Heat beat Knicks, 1997. The Knicks lose Game 6 and Game 7, 95-90 and 101-90 in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
Rockets beat Suns, 1995. Houston wins their 2nd straight NBA title after Mario Elie sinks a corner three with 7.1 seconds remaining in Game 7 of the WC Semi-finals.
Celtics beat 76ers, 1981. Both teams had won 62 games that year. Larry Bird nails a mid-range bank shot in the last seconds after rallying his squad from a 6-point deficit in the final 4 minutes of this EC Finals round.
Bullets beat Spurs, 1979. San Antonio was called for 7 fouls in the final 4 minutes and Washington went on a 10-2 run with only 120 seconds remaining, to win the EC Finals.
Lakers beat Suns, 1970. Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and ElginBaylor rally the purple and gold back for the final three wins of the Western Division Finals.
Celtics beat 76ers, 1970. Boston has their own version of the massive comeback as they fight back behind Sam Jones to be the first team ever to come back after being down 3-1. They dethrone the defending champions.
Steve Kerr's dirty dozen has a chance to be the 10th team to round out the list of teams to make a 3-1 comeback. Game 5 had its own share of magic moments.
Whether it was Draymond Green swatting Westbrook off the glass, or Stephen Curry picking Durant in the final moments like some street orphan in an early Charles Dickens novel, the Warriors can look back to those plays as a reminder that Durant and Westbrook are just men.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Andrew Bogut and help defense. Bogut must stay in the game, ideally playing over 30 minutes. He's the only Warrior who can handle Adams and deter the attack of Russell Westbrook. When Steve Kerr talked about how the Warriors would need "defensive stops and rebounds" to win, he could have said so while pointing directly at Bogut's face.
"He's almost fouling out of every game in 10-15 minutes. He's got to be smarter with his fouls. We need him out there. When he's out there, we rebound better and we've got a good passer out of the post. We want to play Bogut more, but he's got to stay on the floor." — Steve Kerr
Bogut responded with maybe his best game of the year.
* Much will depend on Harrison Barnes' initial on-ball defense. If HB can cause Durant to settle for shots away from the basket, then it will allow Bogut to refrain from first quarter fouls and play more aggressively down the stretch. Durant has struggled from three-point range this series, (.296%) and his night from the arc in Game 5 was no exception (3-11 3pt, 44:36). Will Durant insist on imposing his range, or will he attack HB with everything he's got in the close/mid-range? If the latter rings true, Barnes will earn a big paycheck if he can misdirect KD's drives and give Bogut the favorable angle.
* Klay Thompson needs to mind the Steve Adams screen — it's coming, and it will be hard to alert him over the noise. Adams sets one of the nastiest screens in the NBA with his mobility, and Westbrook can get by anybody without a pick. Draymond must pay attention to this situation and break away from Ibaka if necessary to help Klay recover. If the Warriors must live and die with Ibaka threes, then so be it. They must fight for Bogut at all costs. It may be their only chance to win there. Force Russell to kick it out to the open man back towards half court. Put the onus on his ability to beat them by passing out of his shots.
Shooting the ball. If Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can make 50% of their 3pt FGA's, while keeping Bogut in the game, then victory will be in the cards. Stephen Curry may be in a lull. You could see it in his post-game interview after Game 5. Not to delve too deeply into conjecture, but Stephen looked preoccupied in his thoughts. His mind may be on Russell Westbrook.
With Curry's game in a dip, and coming off inactivity in the prior round, it's very possible that Westbrook might've found a way under Steph's skin. People in the sport always compare the talents of the two, as Westbrook was widely regarded as the runner-up MVP, and the 2nd best point guard in the NBA. With such a contrast in styles, and a comparable greatness in their capabilities, the fact the Russ is outplaying Steph right now may be a tough pill to swallow for number 30.
It might be Sonya, or it could be Kobe Bryant, but somebody needs to get into Steph's ear and remind him of what he's capable of doing, even when things are looking down. Game 4 overtime in Portland should be looped for 2 hours on Stephen's big screen while he listens to his favorite beats and eats Ayesha's spinach. If Curry can leave lasting fingerprints on Game 6 and 7, it would be huge to his great legacy, and pave the way for an even greater performance against Cleveland. His involvement in the physical game two days ago at Oracle catered towards winning basketball, and Curry is poised for a big night.
Big Shot Shaun. While Steve Kerr opted to stay with the 2nd unit in Game 5 for an extended stretch, Shaun Livingston and Mo Speights added to the spread, (from 4 to 9 points) while the starters sat. Livingston goes through stretches when he admittedly rides his confidence into the following game. Amidst all the noise and confusion playing in front of the Thunder crowd, Steve Kerr will rely on the steady hand of Shaun to not turn the ball over, and take smart shots. The maturity of Livingston's game must pay dividends if the 2nd unit wants to keep the crowd uninvolved. No big runs, no turnovers.
Draymond Green taking it to Durant's chest. Durant must be forced to play both sides of the court. Whether he's guarding Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green, the Warriors must attack him, because Durant is sure to play 45 minutes. If the game goes down the stretch, then the Dub's early work in forcing KD to defend, will pay off.
"Going into Oklahoma City will be a hostile environment and it's going to be tough. There's no relief, because we are still down 3-2, and every game is a Game 7 at this point. I don't feel like I got my mojo back, but I feel like I'm heading in the right direction."
"All I can do is battle. Everything else will take care of itself. I feel better. I feel good. But I feel like I have a way to go to being myself. You can't control how a game goes. But I can control how hard I play."
— Draymond Green
Let's hope he finds himself before tipoff. He's dragging the ankle, but his teammates need his heart, and they need his soul.
TO WARRIORS FANS
If your team falls tonight, remember where you were six years ago in late May. Some of you were reluctantly watching the finals, others were browsing Draftexpress.com.
You are only as great as your enemies. The Thunder look to give us exciting battles for years to come. No matter what, celebrate this clash of fast-break giants, as both teams dash to the finish line. Long-time supporters will count their blessings as they remember the stretch of seasons between 1997 and 2002, when the Warriors won the following totals.
Those days are over. Enjoy, and good luck to all of you tonight.