A conference finals series between the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder could only be exciting. Each team possesses two of the best shooters in the game, and even though that’s where the majority of the points are coming from on both ends of the floor, it’s the battle of the big men that has allowed the Thunder to rattle the defending champions early in the series.
In his third season in the NBA, New Zealand native Steven Adams has lifted his game in this year’s playoffs. He might look like a cowboy, but the 22-year-old big man has been a key part of the success for Oklahoma City during these playoffs.
After averaging 8 points and 6 rebounds in the regular season, Adams has stepped up his game coming into the post season, adding an extra 2 points and a massive 4 rebounds to his per game averages, and he has found himself playing extra minutes in key moments throughout the game.
His direct impact on the scoreboard might not be huge, however his ability to take control of the paint and keep the Warriors big men out of the game has been phenomenal. Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Draymond Green and Anderson Varejao have all struggled with Adams in the paint on both ends of the floor. The aggressive style of play that the big Kiwi brings to the game had got under the skin of the Dubs’ big men, resulting in foul trouble and having to resort to a smaller lineup.
In Game 2, Golden State come out firing, but it was once again Adams disrupting the paint and forcing turnovers every time that they took the ball to the rim. Starting the game lining up against Adams, Bogut appeared to still be struggling with the leg injury suffered in the previous game, and seemed to be a step behind Adams on every possession. With the exception of Andre Iguodala and Green, the defending champs struggled on the inside and relied heavily on their long range shots to throughout the first half.
On the offensive end, OKC made the most of the big man’s presence in the first half by running off screens every trip down the floor. This allowed Kevin Durant to catch fire, lighting up the scoreboard with 23 first half points, but the Warriors responded through league MVP Steph Curry to push the lead out to 8 points at the half.
“We turned it over too many times and he really got into a good groove,” said Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr about Durant’s first half.
After a solid first half, it was all downhill in the third term as Curry outscored the Thunder, 15-2, in a 2-minute period doing what he does best — raining down shots from long range, quickly pushing his team’s lead out to more than 20 points as the Oklahoma defense was practically nonexistent.
The Adams match-up was still causing the Dubs problems, however, his team mates went missing in action. Durant could not get into any sort of rhythm, and Westbrook decided to take things into his own hands, which ended in a series of poor shots that were well contested by the Warriors defense.
Sticking with his 8-man rotation until late in the fourth quarter, as he has done throughout the playoffs this season, Billy Donovan’s team couldn’t maintain the intensity that lead them to a Game 1 win, and continued throughout the first half of Game 2 before the Warriors rode out the game in complete control, finishing with a 27-point victory.
Donovan reflected on his teams performance, and how they let Curry pile on the points in the third period.
“I thought we were in pretty good shape going into the half, and then they kinda hit us with that flurry and we got down by 8,” he said. “We didn’t get off to a great start in the third quarter. We let Curry get lose a few times, and we need to do a better job in that area.”
Green said post-game that you have to play a physical game around the rim against the Thunder.
“You’ve just got to hit bodies. When the shot goes up, you can’t be watching for the rebound,” he said. “You’ve got guys like Adams and [Enes] Kanter always flying in there trying to get the rebound. So you gotta hit bodies.”
After being dominated on the boards in Game 1, Kerr was much happier with the way his team handled Adams — and Game 2.
“We did a much better job of being really active and trying to get bodies on people and sometimes the ball bounces your way a little bit more, which it did tonight.”
Festus Ezeli had a much better game against the Thunder big men in Game 2 after some early foul trouble, and spoke after the game about the importance of the bigs on their team.
“Their bigs are a big part of their game,” Ezeli said. “They rebound very well, they’re very athletic, they’re long on the defensive end, they double team him (Curry), and they move their feet pretty well.
“In Game 1 we played a lot of iso, that’s not our game, we kinda played into their hands in that way, so we just had a better focus tonight playing our brand of basketball.”
The Thunder have discovered a way to challenge a team that looked unstoppable only a few weeks ago with the use of their big men, but unfortunately, Wednesday was not their night.
“We’re upset,” said Durant. “The guy’s in the locker room weren’t happy because we only won one game.”
This series now moves to Oklahoma where Game 3 will take place on Sunday, and the Thunder will be looking to make the most of their win in Oakland by defending their home floor.
Feature Image – Headlines News
Story Image – Fox Sports