The Golden State Warriors aren’t dead yet, and they’re looking for redemption as they try to force a deciding game in the Western Conference finals. Heading back to Oklahoma City for a matchup with the Thunder in Game 6 on Saturday night, the defending champs are looking to win at the same venue in which they were embarrassed in consecutive games.
Golden State looked much more like the team that won 73-regular season games in Game 5, defeating Oklahoma City, 120-111, behind 31 points from Stephen Curry. Now, the team must win at Chesapeake Energy Arena, where they were pummeled to the tune of back-to-back 20-plus point losses.
The Thunder thoroughly dominated the Warriors in both Game 3 and Game 4, shutting down the two-time MVP and turning themselves into favorites to win the series.
"Oh, we know we're going back home," Durant said after Game 5. "But we can't relax. We've got to keep our foot on the gas, and we've got to play much better. I thought we played extremely hard tonight. They didn't outplay us; they didn't outwork us. I thought both teams were in a slugfest tonight. So we've got to bring that energy back home. It was a matter of us making a few shots and playing a little more solid defense on them. We'll see what happens."
Neither Durant nor Russell Westbrook shot particularly well on Thursday, both making less than 40 percent of their attempts as they combined to score 71 points. Oklahoma City’s stars looked like the NBA’s two best players when they defeated the Warriors at home. Durant shot 66.7 percent from the field in Game 3, while dominating defensively in Game 4 with three blocks and four steals. Westbrook outshined a struggling Curry, posting a triple-double as he led the Thunder to a 3-1 series lead.
But Curry bounced back in Game 5, as did Draymond Green, who looked like he didn’t belong on the court in the previous two games. At their best, Golden State is among the top teams in league history. Yet, head coach Billy Donovan and the Thunder coaching staff have figured out a way, at times, to counteract what’s made the Warriors so dangerous all season long.
Oklahoma City’s big frontcourt has dominated the glass against Golden State’s smaller lineup that had been so deadly. The Warriors went big in Game 5, making sure Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli or Marreese Speights was on the floor for most of the game. Along with a rejuvenated Green, the Warriors' big men gave the team a rebounding advantage, something they’d been severely lacking.
Back in Oklahoma City, the strategy might not be as successful, considering the Thunder are the much better rebounding team. The Warriors got the benefit of more foul calls, shooting 10 more free throws than the Thunder in Game 5. In the previous two games, Oklahoma City had a plus-23 advantage at the free throw line.
Oklahoma City has been able to disrupt Curry’s rhythm with their physical play for most of the series, and they’ll look to do the same on Saturday. Curry won’t have another performance like he did in Game 4 when he missed 14 of his 20 shots, and there are times when there's nothing opposing defenses can do to stop him. But the Thunder have done as good of a job as anyone, and he hasn't been a consistent force this series.
Even as they went 0-3 against the Warriors in the regular season, the Thunder have played the NBA’s top team better than anyone else in the league. Oklahoma City’s role players are stepping up at the right time, and with the ability of Durant and Westbrook to take over a game, winning three straight against the Thunder might be too much to ask of Golden State.
After five games, oddsmakers are finally acknowledging the threat that the Thunder pose to the Warriors, making them two-point favorites with an over/under of 221 points, via VegasInsider.com. Golden State won’t go down without a fight, but it might not be good enough to extend the series.
Prediction: Oklahoma City over Golden State, 112-109