Golden State Warriors

Warriors vs. Thunder: A question of size, depth, stars or effort?

Steph Curry halfcourt logo

We’ve known about this series for four days, and with that time come all the breakdowns one would expect. Can the Thunder out-big the Warriors with a lineup featuring Steven Adams and either Serge Ibaka or Enes Kanter at the same time, especially if Andrew Bogut’s adductor injury slows him down? How can Oklahoma City handle Golden State’s “death lineup”? Can the Warriors finally find a way to slow down Kevin Durant? Who’s guarding Steph Curry?

I predicted the Warriors would win this series in seven games, because I respect what the Thunder can achieve against this team that no one else can. They’re the best offensive rebounding team in the league by a healthy margin, and it seemed like they figured out how to utilize their size advantage while playing the Spurs. Plus, the Warriors, save for the second half of Game 4 in Houston, haven’t played particularly well on the road in these playoffs.

But I’m wondering if I’m committing the sin of all sins this season, and underestimating what this Warriors team can do when fully engaged. They might have gained a healthy respect for Portland as their second round series progressed, but that respect wasn’t there in Games 1, 2, or even 3. And no one respects the Rockets, for obvious reasons.

Whenever the Warriors came into a game focused, with the “appropriate fear” Steve Kerr always mentions, plus a little anger, they obliterate teams. The first time they played San Antonio comes to mind, as well as the game in Cleveland. With the Thunder representing a multifaceted threat — size, stars and athleticism — the Warriors should give their greatest effort in Game 1 and beyond.

Can Oklahoma City match? I’m not sure, but they had an effort-related epiphany in San Antonio. Check out what their center said, courtesy of Tim Bontemps:

“We wasn’t in this position for nothing,” Kevin Durant said after Thursday night’s win. “I think, just throughout the season, we were still learning who we were as a team. We were mixing different lineups, so guys were learning that, as well. That helped us out, as well, because guys got experience out there during the regular season. In the first series, a lot of guys stepped up.

“We played hard every minute, and just tried to stick to that.”

Even that is something the Thunder has struggled with this season. Center Steven Adams gave a telling quote following the Thunder’s win in Game 2 last week to even the series at a game apiece.

“We came out and actually tried,” he said. “That’s pretty much it. We actually tried this time.”

One would think the Thunder will actually try during this series. So will the favorites, so we’ll see if the Warriors will shrug off their moments of uneven play — much of it without Curry, to be fair — and play their best playoff series yet.

Pregame notes

— Kerr said Bogut is expected to play, and he’ll start after looking OK during pregame warmups. Then again, Bogut’s pregame warmups are pretty low-key.

— Especially compared with Curry’s, which are a well-known spectacle that usually draws hundreds of fans, regardless of the arena the Warriors happen to be in that night. Tonight’s crowd was much smaller than average, perhaps due to the early start time.

I caught his entire session, and he didn’t disappoint. Here he is, going 5-for-5 from the halfcourt logo.

And here he is, making his famous tunnel shot on his third try.

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