2016 NBA Playoffs: Thunder-Warriors Series Preview

Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports /

Have you recovered yet? What a series it was between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs as the Thunder beat the 7th best regular season team of all time in six games in the NBA Playoffs Second Round. Time to move on though because next up? The 73-win, defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

“This is not our Championship” Kevin Durant said directly in the wake of the Thunder’s game six win in Oklahoma City. That was a smart move. The series win was magnificent and deserves praise; it may have even been a turning point in the Thunder’s path to redemption but it is not the end for them, or so they hope. Eight more wins separate Oklahoma City from an NBA title; but four wins against the Warriors is an incredibly big ask.

The Warriors have enjoyed the first two rounds of the NBA Playoffs, and have only had to play ten games total thus far. They easily dispatched the Houston Rockets, but the Portland Trail Blazers were absolutely superb and gave Golden State five of the toughest games imaginable. They lit it up from deep against the Champions and made them work every single quarter.

Steph Curry and all his back-to-back MVP skills are on their way for seven games, alongside Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and one of the deepest supporting casts in the league. The Spurs are an incredible machine, but the Warriors offer a very different animal. Are the Thunder ready?

Can Serge Ibaka be the Thunder’s X-Factor? Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Can Serge Ibaka be the Thunder’s X-Factor? Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Key Statistics – Thunder (per NBA.com)

Regular Season: Off. Rating 109.9, Def. Rating 103.0, Net +6.9.

Second Round: Off. Rating 105.9, Def. Rating 104.1, Net +1.8.

Key Statistics – Warriors (per NBA.com)

Regular Season: Off. Rating 112.5, Def. Rating 100.9, Net +11.6.

Second Round: Off. Rating 116.0, Def. Rating 107.3, Net +8.7.

Season Series

Thunder @ Warriors: 108-116.

Warriors @ Thunder: 121-118.

Thunder @ Warriors: 121-106.

Why The Thunder Will Win

Because this might be the best version of the Thunder we have seen since they moved to Oklahoma City. The last five games were a revelation for the Thunder, because when game one’s disaster was excluded the Thunder posted an offensive rating of 107.3 against the best defense the league has seen in years, whilst posting a defensive rating of 99.1.

The defensive rating is what is key here. A swarming mix of athleticism, speed and ferocity enveloped the Spurs, grinding their offense into the equivalent of the league’s 28th best offense in the regular season. Only the Lakers and Sixers would have been worse.

This is an incredible development, not to mention the contributions of the players not named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Their size and power inside beat up the Spurs, with the twin tower lineup of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter unable to be stopped.

It was Adams’ National coming out party, averaging 11.0 points per game (on 70 percent shooting), 11.8 rebounds per game (including 3.5 offensive) and 1.0 block per game. His defense switching onto smaller opponents has improved, and he’s going to need those skills against the Warriors non traditional lineups.

Now it comes down to the support cast. Can they keep Kanter on the floor like they did in the regular season? Can Dion Waiters continue to be a factor after shooting 44 percent from deep? Can Andre Roberson be enough of a factor offensively that the Warriors can’t ignore him?

The Thunder appear to have solved their defensive issues and fourth quarter meltdowns, but does that last against a team which those late game struggles were so prominent? Oklahoma City could have won all three games against the Warriors. Will it stick in their mind?

Finally Serge Ibaka could be the X-Factor here. He can guard big and small, and he can stretch the floor for his fellow stars. Is this his time? Because it’s going to need to be.

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Why The Warriors Will Win

The Warriors are an unstoppable machine that the NBA may have never seen the likes of before. Their incredible versatility is so difficult to plan for, but their defense against the Blazers will have to improve. Whilst Portland’s deep shooting gave the Warriors fits, the Thunder’s versatility on that end is a different type of challenge.

Steph Curry could prove the decisive factor for the Warriors, and whether the Thunder can stop the unbelievably red hot backcourt of Curry and Thompson is pivotal for both teams advancing. Curry averaged 35.0 points per game (on 48-45-83 percent shooting splits), 4.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 2.0 steals.

Thompson averaged 23.7 points per game, but shot only 19 percent from three (52 from the field though). That will need to be better. Draymond Green has been arguably the best player in the entire playoffs so far, and if he can keep up his 17.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.3 blocks and 1.7 steals per game average, the Warriors will be hard to stop.

The Thunder had extreme difficulty stopping the supporting cast, with Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston and company all finding success against the Thunder. If that continues and they outplay the bench mob of the Thunder, that goes a long way to sealing a place in the NBA Finals.

Their offense is historic, and if they can match it with their defense which at its best can be frightening. The Thunder are up against it if they want to beat a team that’s won 81 games and lost only 11 this whole season.


The Warriors control this matchup because of the season series and the fact their play has been historic. That doesn’t mean the Thunder are not capable, and if they can replicate the brilliance that got them past the Spurs anything is possible.

Billy Donovan has beaten Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich on his way to leading the Thunder through the West. Can he add Steve Kerr and the Warriors to his NBA Playoffs debut?

This is the biggest Western Conference Finals seen in NBA History, and that is not hyperbole when comparing the numbers. More than likely, the Warriors win in six. If the Thunder can find a way to keep their best lineups on the floor (which includes their bigs), the Thunder win in seven. Let’s go.

All statistics from Basketball Reference, unless otherwise stated.