Preventing the best regular-season team in league history from making the NBA Finals was never going to be easy, even with a 3-1 series lead, and the Oklahoma City Thunder missed their chance to knockout the champs. Having tied up the Western Conference finals and now headed back home for Game 7 on Monday, the Golden State Warriors are ready to secure a rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers in their quest for a second straight title.
The Thunder came ever so close to upsetting the Warriors and forcing them to share a legacy with the near-perfect 2007 New England Patriots as the best teams in sports history that failed to win it all. Golden State’s starting backcourt had struggled for most of the series, putting them on the brink of elimination. But with their backs against the wall, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson took control and made the big plays that have made this Warriors team so special, giving them new life when their historic season seemed to be on its way to an untimely conclusion.
It might be foolish to count out Oklahoma City in the deciding game; Curry’s shooting has been shaky for most of the series, and Thompson almost certainly won’t set an NBA record for three-pointers in a second straight game. If Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook perform like they did in Game 3 and Game 4, the Warriors’ Game 6 effort will be buried in the history books below their failure to complete a once-in-a-lifetime season with a championship.
But almost every prognosticator will pick Golden State to win Game 7, despite the appearance through four games that Oklahoma City had the ingredients to beat the NBA’s top team. Las Vegas oddsmakers agree, making the Warriors seven-point favorites (218.5 over/under).
The things that helped Golden State win 73 games have been amplified since the team first stared elimination in the face in Game 5. When the Splash Brothers are at their best, there’s no defense that can stop them. More than a few of Thompson’s 11 three-pointers on Saturday were well guarded, and Curry made the kinds of tough shots down the stretch that helped him become the league’s first ever unanimous MVP.
For the Thunder, being one step away from reaching the finals has highlighted the issues that have prevented them from advancing beyond the conference finals in the last four years, despite having two of the NBA’s transcendent players. Oklahoma City has reverted back to the isolation basketball in crunch time that has failed them in the past, and it won’t work against Golden State.
Durant has quietly had a poor shooting series, shooting less than 39 percent in four of the six games. Russell Westbrook continues to fill up the stat sheet and take over games, but his erratic play at times has been costly against the Warriors. Oklahoma City wouldn’t be in position to take the series if the point guard changed his style of play, but the turnovers and poor decisions that often come along with the complete package that is Russell Westbrook might prevent the Thunder from finishing off the upset.
Plenty of credit goes to Golden State’s defense, which got big stops down the stretch of Game 6. Andre Iguodala utilized the same defensive skills that helped him win the 2015 NBA Finals MVP award, and he’ll be there to do the same if the situation calls for it in Game 7.
Durant/Westbrook: 0-4 w/ 6 TO in final 5 min of Game 6
They are 8-37 w/ 13 TO in clutch time (last 5 min, score within 5) this postseason
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 29, 2016
The Warriors have been a much better team at Oracle Arena this postseason, even with their Game 1 loss. Curry’s shooting 47.4 percent at home compared to 37.3 percent on the road. Draymond Green has said that he thrives on the wrath of opposing fans, but his numbers (14.7 points per game on 43.6 percent shooting in Golden State and 8.0 points per game 23.1 percent shooting in Oklahoma City) would beg to differ, at least in this series.
Golden State is unbeaten in their two chances to close out a series this year, and that shouldn’t change on Monday. The Thunder had their shot, and instead of going on the greatest playoff run in NBA history, they’ll likely be watching the NBA finals at home, wondering what might have been.
Prediction: Golden State over Oklahoma City, 115-105