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Series Preview: Confident Thunder get shot at champs

Golden State was 3-0 this season vs. OKC -- but just barely

POSTED: May 13, 2016 11:50 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury

NBA.com

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Kevin Durant and the Thunder are oozing with confidence after dispatching the Spurs, but do they have enough to handle MVP Stephen Curry and the defending champion Warriors?

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. This was supposed to be the basketball version of Ali-Frazer, the pair of heavyweights finally getting their showdown with the Warriors and their record-setting 73 wins taking on the team that chased them all season.

But along came the rumbling Thunder and suddenly the Spurs with their franchise-best 67 wins have gone fishing. That doesn't make the road much less difficult for MVP Steph Curry and the defending champs.

This is only the third time the two franchises have met in the playoffs and the first since back in 1992 when the Thunder were still in Seattle and Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson and Curry were still too young to attend kindergarten.

Thunder-Warriors Game 1 Preview

Sekou Smith and Brendan Haywood take a look at the game 1 match-up between the Oklahoma City Thunder versus the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

The Warriors took just five games each to get past the Rockets and Trail Blazers in the first two rounds of the playoffs and had to play portions of both series without Curry, who suffered injuries to an ankle and knee, but came back in Game 4 against to drop in 40 points off the bench just ahead of receiving his second straight MVP award, this time as the first ever unanimous choice. The Thunder beat Dallas handily 4-1 in the first round, then got off the floor following a 124-92 thumping in Game 1 of the semifinals to beat the Spurs at their own game of fourth quarter execution.

The Warriors will win if ...

The two-time MVP Steph Curry can avoid more injuries to any of his appendages and stay on the floor to give the Warriors his dependable minutes as the league's leading scorer and fire-starter to just about everything they do on offense. Golden State has had the roster depth to get through the first two rounds against lesser opponents, but this is a clear step up in class and the Warriors will need all of the punch and heroics Curry can bring.

Klay Thompson had what Curry said was the best playoff series of his career in leading the charge against Portland and it will be necessary for him to stay aggressive at both ends of the floor. Thompson will split time defensively on OKC's 1-2 punch of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala all have the size and defensive chops to get the job done.

The Thunder will win if ...

They continue to show the kind of poise and growth that was on display in late-game situations against the Spurs. The very same OKC team that surrendered fourth-quarter leads to lose games 15 times during the regular season and were just 3-12 in games that were within five points in the final five minutes after the All-Star break has suddenly gained composure and become a collection of clutch performers in the playoffs. They are 4-2 in those tight spots in the playoffs and were 3-1 against the Spurs.

It's been said that the way to beat the Warriors is by pounding away on the inside and OKC coach Billy Donovan might have the key in his big man combination of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter that enables the Thunder to keep the ball alive and get extra possessions. They were the No. 1 rebounding team this season.

The Thunder need their big two to carry the usual big load, but also need Westbrook to continue to play with the kind of late-game poise and fire that's been on display since Game 4 against San Antonio. They can still live with his turnovers as long as Westbrook is being a difference-maker when the game is on the line. The Thunder are oozing with confidence right now.

3 quick questions and answers

1. Will the break before start of the series help the Warriors?

Not necessarily. We have to assume that Curry's sprained knee is fine since the Warriors put him back in the lineup. But he's still missed considerable time in the playoffs and having game conditioning and a good rhythm will be key against a long, active team with aggressive defenders.

2. Who is a below-the-radar contributor for the Thunder?

While Andre Roberson gets the starting nod at shooting guard for his defense, Dion Waiters came off the bench to do excellent work against the Spurs' Kawhi Leonard and could get the late call on Curry.

3. What happened in the regular season series?

The Warriors swept OKC 3-0, but the Thunder let them wriggle off the hook twice. The most memorable was Feb. 27 in overtime when Curry launched his 37-foot rainbow classic that splashed down as the horn sounded.

Making the pick

The Thunder are completely healthy in the playoffs for the first since time since going to the NBA Finals in 2012 and have the tools to push and test the defending champs. But as long as Curry stays on the court, not quite enough. Warriors in 6.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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