Rise Together: Thunder Clashes With Warriors at Home – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC vs. GSW
- Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. CT
- Television: ABC
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
On the perimeter, the guards will be challenged, with Russell Westbrook, Terrance Ferguson and Dennis Schröder chasing sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson around screens and off dozens of different actions to try to pry loose for three-pointers.
Inside, it’ll be Steven Adams, barrel-chested and ready for contact, awaiting DeMarcus Cousins in the paint for a battle of wills and muscles. Jerami Grant will have his head on a swivel, constantly aware of they playmaking Draymond Green’s movements in relation to his teammates.
Along the wing is where the big questions begin, at least in the Thunder’s scouting report for the Golden State Warriors. Head Coach Billy Donovan knows he’ll have Paul George awaiting whoever lines up at small forward for the defending champions, whether that’s Kevin Durant who is recovering from a sprained ankle or the veteran Andre Iguodala.
The battle lines are drawn. These teams are as familiar with one another as possible, even with some new personnel across the lines. For the Thunder, it’s about executing the game plan better than Golden State and finding ways to get this game to their desired flow and rhythm. If the Thunder can pattern solid defensive stops with defensive rebounds and then fly out into the open court, it will give itself a great chance inside a boisterous Chesapeake Energy Arena on Saturday night.
“Once we get going, we start playing faster, up tempo and start getting to fast breaks and transition, that’s when we’re at our best,” George said. “We’re still a good executing team in the half-court but again, that’s when we’re at our best when we’re flying and making the game easy.”
“There’s history between these two, us and Golden State, far longer than when I was here,” George added. “It’s always a good game when we play them.”
In order to even be in position for a victory, however, the Thunder must limit some of the mistakes that tripped up a 19-point lead in Indiana and resulted in a two-point deficit as the final seconds dripped off that second night of a back-to-back loss. Avoiding the pitfalls of too many turnovers, an abundance of fouls and a human tendency to take the foot off the gas with a lead in hand are absolutely necessary conditions for victory.
“Some of it was missed shots but the other thing was we kept turning the ball over,” forward Abdel Nader said, explaining the Thunder’s second half in Indiana. “It just happens throughout the course of a basketball game.”
“It’s something that we have to get better at. When we’re up on a team 19 points, we gotta have a better mentality of finishing them off and not giving up stupid fouls to give them free points,” Nader continued.
The aforementioned starters and the Thunder’s sixth man will play heavy, heavy minutes in this one, but the Thunder’s reserves have shined against Golden State in the two meetings this season, particularly the Thunder’s victory in November out at Oracle Arena. In that matchup the Thunder’s bench racked up 53 points, including 32 from Schröder alone. In this one at home, role players like Nader, Nerlens Noel and Markieff Morris will need to step up as well by playing off of the Thunder’s key playmakers in Westbrook, George and Schröder.
“Playing with P, Russ, Dennis, all of these guys, it makes my job a lot easier,” Nader explained. “I just try to find the open spot, make the shots and take advantage of the opportunities when they come to me. Cutting, whether it’s taking my man off the dribble, they really make that a lot easier for me.”
This is a league filled with superstar power and even with Curry, Thompson, Green, Cousins and possibly Durant on the other side of the floor, the Thunder is well equipped with its own best and brightest. Westbrook is obviously the catalyst and a former MVP, and this season he’s playing alongside a guy who is in the running for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
George is coming off yet another fantastic performance, a 36-point effort back in Indiana, and is averaging 28.2 points on 44.1 percent shooting, including 39.2 percent marksmanship from the three-point line and 84.0 percent from the free throw line. On top of that he’s averaging career-highs in rebounds with 8.1 and racking up 4.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game this year, while leading the NBA in steals, deflections and loose balls recovered. George has seriously improved and refined his game over the years and the Thunder forward is making waves across the league as a result.
“Maturity. Almost all of it has just been growing up. I’m 28 now, so that’s pretty old,” George grinned. “I just see the game differently. I have a different mindset. A different outlook when I’m on the floor. I’m a lot more confident and know the skills that I have.”
- The Warriors are going to run Curry, Thompson, Iguodala and others (including Durant if he plays) off of various screening actions along the wing. Playing two high percentage shooters off of each other to try and cause confusion, Golden State tries to shake their scorers free for open jump shots or cutting layups. The key for the Thunder is to provide pressure to whoever has the ball and is attempting to make a pass, then to be up in the jersey of the cutters. Point switches – where players just pass off their assignments without converging together – won’t cut it tonight.
- “Communication and physicality,” George began. “I think if you talk to any team in the NBA on how to guard Golden State and their cutting action, it would just be communication and bringing physicality where we bring a body on a body.”
- The Thunder will need physicality off the bench as well as the starting lineup, and recently it has gotten it from the newcomer Morris. He’s played in 11 games for the Thunder thus far, shooting 37 percent from the three-point line while averaging 7.0 points and 4.1 rebounds in 17.1 minutes per game. Most importantly, Morris has fit in nicely with the team, where he has already clicked with key stakeholders like George.
- “(Morris) brings that toughness that continues on outside of Russ, outside of Steve-O, myself. He adds extra fuel to that toughness flame,” said George. “He’s just a really good individual. Since Day One he came in and had a great feel of us. We tried to welcome him and make it as easy of a transition as possible. He’s comfortable now. He’s himself and he’s been a great locker room guy.”