It’s been a long while since I last wrote something here in my personal space, and it’s been even longer since I last covered an NBA subject.
However, as the CBA season is far from running China’s favorite team, the Golden State Warriors, is approaching a rutilant NBA title win.
In no way can one say the eulogies haven’t been piling up for this Warriors team this season, and certainly a lack of criticism isn’t to be registered either.
But as the season slowly dies away with an uncompromising beatdown of the Cavaliers’ hopes for some gold in Ohio, the different patterns the same Golden State team has
exhibited in its bout against the Thunder probably needs some more breakdown.
1 – GSW Entry Test
The GSW, as many great teams have done before, provide first and foremost a strategic challenge. Just as your average science test comes with questions and problems to which you’re asked to provide suitable and apt solutions, this team comes with its challenges to face.
To put it simply, it’s fair to say the Thunder have correctly answered the whole test.
Let’s pretend this is an actual test and write down some of the questions it may contain:
1) Can you switch correctly on players without creating suicidal mismatches on a far-too-regular basis for your hopes of winning?
2) Have you selected a philosophy to abide by when approaching the matter of defending Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson that you will stay true to for a long enough time for it to be called a strategy?
3) Can you provide enough aggressiveness to force our offense into second-guessing the basics of his natural flow, i.e. entry passes, pindown looks?
4) Will you be able to keep enough players in your rotation for your gameplan not to be thwarted by our ability to exploit their individual weaknesses?
5) Do you have enough offensive versatility and firepower to force us into uncomfortable defensive possessions?
6) Can you outhustle us on a nightly basis?
To all this the Thunder have answered, through the series, as follows:
1) Kanter has been taken off the big rotation; the only other valuable switches are Curry against either Adams or Ibaka. As much as Curry killed them, it’s ultimately incorrect to say that Adams or Ibaka have played bad defense: they’ve been sliding and covering both the space between them and Steph and the space behind them. You can’t take away anything, but out of all the solutions you could give up you’re conceding the one that would grant Golden State the lowest percentage, which is isolation basketball culminating in contested shots.
2) The philosophy has been clear: switch and force Curry and Thompson to isolate and shoot over the top of solid, capable defenders.
3) Yes. Golden State has been hesitant to perform less-than-elementary passing for fear of Oklahoma City stealing the ball and unleashing its famed offensive transition. The length most OKC players possess has been a menace both in the passing lanes and at the rim.
4) Ultimately Kanter ended up being the only player facing a reduction in playing time. Waiters has defended well enough to keep himself in the contest, and both Adams and Roberson have proven dangerous on the offensive end despite not being shooters.
5) Westbrook and Durant are stellar enough for any offense to benefit, but having two non-shooters could have caused more double teams for the two superstars. However, Adams has punished every lack of attention he received on the offensive end and Roberson has been both a factor on the boards and as a cutter, once again taking advantage of not being guarded closely.
6) Yes, the Thunder have overall been often the more aggressive team and they’ve rarely trailed plays.
In comparison, the Cavs have failed their test right off the bat.
1) Cleveland hasn’t even gotten to the part where you pay bad mismatches. They’ve been paying failed matchups ending with wide open dunks, layups, jump shots.
2) They’re thinking of switching, as a general rule. They will throw the occasional double team at Curry. However, as noted before, they have showed a major lack of communication on some switches.
3) No. The Warriors are actually forcing a lot of thread-the-needle passes that sometimes aren’t even there. They’re not scared, they’re overconfindent.
As long as the Cavs fail to answer these questions, there’s no point in going through the other ones, as these 3 vacancies are already enough to put the series down.
While LeBron James and his teammates deal with it, it needs to be noted that at the end of the test, as Oklahoma found out, lies a tricky question.
N) If, at some point in time, we begin to score forced, next-to-impossible shots at a rate that was previously thought to be unsustainable by any team in the long run, will you be able to stay the course and play us the right way until the end?
The way Golden State played Game 6 and 7 is unheard of. As Oklahoma had taken away every offensive rhythm and energy, Golden State got forced to play the role everyone thought belonged to them all along.
All year the Warriors have been labeled as a jump shooting team. While they do score a lot of jumpers, they’ve never relied on just that. During this record-setting season they’ve often been the quickest to the ball, the most efficient in finding the open man, the most disciplined and solid on the defensive end. They’ve been often very competitive on the offensive board and dedicated to the defensive board. They have at least 3 great perimeter defenders, many more competent ones and a plethora of players above 6’5″ and below 6’9″ that can seamlessly defend at least 3 positions. Their power forward/center leads the team in assists (Josh McRoberts flirted with that achievement two years ago playing for the Bobcats, but it wasn’t quite the same) and rebounds, and their bench is the best in the NBA according to most experts.
The Warriors are a great team that shoots awfully well and with an equally awful amount of confidence and flair for the daredevil.
However, in game 6 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals all of this has been virtually nullified. The Thunder, knowing perfectly well that their opponent is not just Curry and Thompson shooting ungodly threes, have brought the unfair portrait all NBA fans and analysts had painted of them as their nemesis.
That, of course, wasn’t by design. The Thunder were trying to win, not to prove a point.
But by doing what they did OKC unknowingly put the Warriors in front of that painting, forcing the confrontation between substance and perception.
They’ve forced the actual, real Warriors to play like the prejudicial, plastic-fake, superficially-viewed Warriors everyone saw them as. It was like putting a Spiderman mask on some passed out guy’s face to see if he was Peter Parker.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, it worked.
The superheroic, unrealistic Warriors as potrayed by the people, for the first time, actually were an accurate representation of the real Warriors: completely relying on dazzling, unfairly accurate 3-point shooting devoid of any real ball movement. They’ve won Game 6 and Game 7 in similar fashion, but in the latter contest the long distance bombing was so unnatural for anyone who has seen at least 3 or 4 full basketball games in his/her life that Donovan, coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was somehow forced to commit hara-kiri by double teaming Curry at the top of the key.
Even though this decision lasted no more than 2-3 minutes, it opened up the floor for the Warriors, all of a sudden liberated from the enchantment.
Thanks to the 4-on-3 they were now enjoying on the offensive end everything started flowing, rocking and thumping. In what proved to be the last 12 minutes of the Thunder’s season OKC tried to come back and they got close, but the Warriors had now found their true self again.
While the Thunder never really looked disheartened to the point of losing their ever-important unity as a team, Donovan ultimately couldn’t answer the final question by staying true to his defensive philosophy.
And that, in the words of Kevin Durant, was the series.