Mindset Matters – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at GSW
- Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. CT
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
OAKLAND – Perhaps this season even more than years past, an NBA truism has come to life. Any team can get beaten by any of the other 29 teams on any given night. No professional basketball team is a static entity, so past results don’t promise future performance. And that’s why Saturday evening’s battle between the Thunder and the Golden State Warriors is no referendum on how these teams matchup, but more of a status check – a camera shuttering with 22 games left in the regular season to provide a snapshot of this piece of the Thunder’s journey.
Sure, the Thunder has beaten the defending champion Warriors twice in two meetings so far this season. Including the Saturday night affair, there’s two more to go during the 2017-18 campaign. At 34-26, the Thunder has shown its ability to defeat high caliber opponents but also to fall short against teams with lesser records. In a league where even teams that are in 14th and 15th place in the division only have a scoring differential of 3-to-5 points, that volatility is somewhat common.
“All teams around the NBA can say that. If they beat some good teams, they can say, ‘okay, this is what we can be.’ If they lose to some bad teams, they say, ‘okay, this is what we can be.’” Forward Carmelo Anthony noted. “With us, we know how good we can be. That’s not our issue. Our problem is just being consistent.”
The Thunder recognizes that even if inconsistency is a fact of life in the NBA, there are ways that professionals can mitigate it. Against the Warriors in the two meetings this season, the Thunder has managed to do that, putting together a pair of strong 48-minute performances. With players like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant on the opposite side, it’s no wonder the Thunder has been intensely vigilant against Golden State. There’s an appropriate level of fear when confronting three of the NBA’s very best shooters surrounded by a litany of veteran role players.
“It comes down to competing, the mindset that you have to have to have going up against those guys and knowing how well that they play together,” Anthony said. “You know that you can’t have any mental lapses against a team like that, and they make you pay for it.”
“With great shooters and great scorers, a lot of times when shots are gotten off, you are at the mercy of whether or not its gonna go in or out,” added Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan.
Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan
Though the Thunder’s two wins against Golden State mean nothing in a new competitive event, and given the near certainty that the Warriors will come into this game with adjustments and changes, there are some overarching factors that the Thunder will look to control. The first is turnovers, an area where the Thunder has excelled in the first two matchups, pushing the Warriors to over 20 giveaways in each contest.
“A combination of guys really giving good effort, rotating really well, scrambling and probably some errant passes on their part, as well,” Donovan explained of the defensive effort.
It won’t be about gambling on the perimeter for the Thunder to create those miscues. In fact it’s the near opposite. A symphony of coordinated defensive movement is much more critical to team success on that end of the floor. Identifying Golden State’s intentions early, communicating it to teammates and getting to the necessary spots on the floor accurately and on time will be crucial, and something the Thunder must do relentlessly.
“One of the most important things is understanding their smokescreen plays,” center Steven Adams said. “The fake plays to then set up what they’re really trying to get. They do a really good job at honing down on that, which really actually helps us out a lot.”
- In terms of adjustments, the Warriors seem to have already made one that stands out as different from previous matchups between these two squads. Instead of the burly, skilled center Zaza Pachulia in the starting lineup setting hard screens and zipping passes to cutters and shooters flaring to the wing, the Warriors featured JaVale McGee in the opening five in its last game. A high-flying, rolling, lob-catching, shot blocking center, McGee provides the Warriors with a different look to begin, and also an extra playmaker with Pachulia in the second group.
- “It’s a little bit different than Pachulia in terms of rim protector, athletic, really good roller, gives them a presence in terms of throwing lobs,” Donovan reported. “Pachulia was really more of a passer out of the pocket. He could make some plays.”
- One of the most effective ways the Thunder has been able to counter the Warriors high octane scoring punch has been perhaps its most efficient weapon all season: the high screen and roll between Adams and point guard Russell Westbrook. With Paul George and Carmelo Anthony ready to launch from the wings and Westbrook zooming into the paint like a sports car, the brawny Adams has managed to be light on his feet, quick-stepping his way to get ahead or parallel with Westbrook on the roll for some easy catch-and-finish situations.
- “We’ve got a good combination, those two guys in pick-and-roll together,” Donovan said. “Steven’s done a really good job rolling. We’ve been able to find him.”