I can't believe the Warriors won that game.
- A. Oklahoma City, 75 percent chance to win (according to FiveThirtyEight)
- B. Oklahoma City, 72 percent chance to win (according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index)
- C. Oklahoma City, 66 percent chance to win (according to betting markets; PredictWise)
When we last were together in Explain One Play: Stephen Curry is not going home yet, I figured the odds were certainly worse than 50% that the W's would pull one out in OKC. I think OKC as 60% favorites was about right.
And given the way most of the game went, it looked pretty bad for the good guys. Down 7 with 5 minutes to go, the Dubs win probability was calculated at 10%.
But in the key closing stretch in the 4th Quarter, the W's turned up the defense and gummed up the Thunder offense (except for the offensive rebounding which kept OKC in it). Despite the awe-inspiring splash shooting, the Steve Kerr Warriors have always kickstarted their offense with great defense.
Last 4:40 of Game— Kevin Cottrell Jr. (@KCJ_Swish) May 29, 2016
PTS 16 4
FG 5/9 1/5
3P 3/5 0/1
TOV 0 6
Let's look at three key plays down the stretch, which all begin with great defense.
02:55. OKC 99 - 96. Durant Turnover : Bad Pass (2 TO) Steal:Iguodala (1 ST) / Curry 3pt Shot: Made (29 PTS) Assist: Barnes (1 AST)
This was my favorite play of the night. In Games 2, 3 and 4, the Warriors played a, well, gimmick defense, where they left Andre Roberson unguarded in order to do a soft double team of Kevin Durant. In Game 2 it worked great, in Game 3 and 4 it obviously did not. The Thunder made GREAT adjustments sending Roberson along the baseline, as well as getting Serge Ibaka involved off-ball, and generally having very well defined releases for Durant. Between that and running on misses from Curry's dreadful shooting, OKC dominated. In Game 5, as discussed in Explain One Play: Stephen Curry is not going home yet, the Warriors simplified their defense and mostly went back to their usual switching defense, and notably played Durant mostly straight man-to-man (and Russell Westbrook mostly with ICE on the wing and man-to-man).
On this key play, you'll see it start with Curry springing a surprise double team of Durant. THIS is how you do it. You saw this exact approach during the regular season Thunder games of letting Durant punch himself out for 3.5 quarters and then start blitzing him with surprise double teams. (Compare Explain One Play: Bench blitzes and breaks Durant). When you do it all game, OKC can adjust and plan counters. When you spring it on an exhausted and frazzled OKC team at the end, you get this play.
Curry leaves his man to pull a surprise double team from the baseline side, Durant's blind side. Curry has left Dion Waiters alone, who spots up on the left side waving his arms. I think Durant must see Dion waving for the ball ALL THE TIME, because he didn't pass it to him. Instead, he tries to hit a cutting Serge Ibaka. Officially, Andre Iguodala deflects the pass, which Harrison Barnes turns into early offense with his usual terrifying dribbling, and he feeds Curry for a wide open 3. In the chaos of the early offense, nobody on OKC picks up Curry.
Again, if the Dubs double all game, the whole OKC team will get used to it, and expect it. In quarter 1, Durant probably hits Waiters for the open 3. In exhausted high stress time, he couldn't handle it.
01:40. Tied 101 - 101. Westbrook Turnover : Lost Ball (2 TO) Steal:Iguodala (2 ST) / K Thompson 3pt Shot: Made (39 PTS) Assist: Iguodala (1 AST)
What can you say about Andre Iguodala's defense tonight? In this play, he picks up Russell Westbrook, gets a steal and then throws a long perfect pass to Klay for the go-ahead 3.
RWB charges full speed ahead, and Andre does an amazing job not fouling RWB. In fact, he kind of pulls the chair on him and RWB stumbles on the drive. Then RWB starts to shoot his fadeaway and Andre somehow strips him cleanly. This is Andre's defensive super power: the strip.
Klay shoots with the confidence of someone who has canned 10 threes already, including various messed up heat checks. What a game from Big Smokey, with not just the points, but also the solid defense on RWB and others.
00:38.9. GSW 104-101. K Thompson 3pt Shot: Missed / Durant Rebound (Off:2 Def:5) / Westbrook Turnover : Bad Pass (4 TO) Steal: Draymond Green. / Curry Driving Bank shot: Made
This was the game-sealing steal. This long possession begins with an old favorite Warriors crunch-time play, with Klay setting a pick for Curry. (Compare Explain 1 Play: Curry Cold-Blooded Go-Ahead 3). Klay quickly slips the screen and gets an open shot for 3, which he misses. At this point Draymond does not give up on the play and...
What hustle. Thunder had a fast break and Westbrook is almost unstoppable in the open court. But Draymond messes that up and gets the Dubs a chance to seal the game with one last score. The Thunder freely let the Warriors get Ibaka guarding Curry. Now for the OKC wins, Ibaka has been blocking everyone and their mother. But Curry has had some success attacking Ibaka in isolation (don't have the matchup stats handy). Here he doesn't have quite the explosion that 2015-16 Curry had pre-knee, but it's enough to get by Ibaka. And what a tough finish by Curry with the unusual bank shot.
Kerr promised he'd play the bench because that's who the W's were. And so the bench played in the first couple of minutes of the 2nd, and so the W's were a team that hemorrhaged points while the Thunder attacked Marreese Speights and the general lack of rim protection. I think Kerr learned his lesson about the bench and road games. He might run more bench out in home Game 7 if the W's get a little cushion.
In general, the Thunder are exposing the Warriors lack of quality two-way big men. Bogut is an outstanding defender, but he can barely shoot and can be hack-a-Boguted. Festus Ezeli is more mobile, but just consistently makes mental mistakes, plus also can be hack-a-Ezelied. Mo Speights can't defend the rim and his jump shot comes and goes. James McAdoo is an unfinished version of an unfinished Ezeli. Luckily, the Small Ball Death Squad finished well today.
In general, the Thunder are the first team the W's have faced in the Kerr era that thrives more than they do on chaos and fast pace. Westbrook is at his absolute best running downhill towards the basket in transition. Durant tears your heart out with his trailer 3s. Thus it was important for the W's to stop chucking up fast shots. Just as the Cavs in the 2015 Finals tried to control the tempo to stop the W's from running, the W's need to do that to the Thunder.
Some people are calling that the greatest Warriors game ever played. Others are calling it a top-10 playoff game in NBA history. I'll let others judge, but certainly for underdogness plus what was at stake, it's way up there.