I’ve been telling people all season long that there were two teams in the Western Conference that could give the historically great, 73-win defending NBA champion Warriors a run for their money: the Spurs and the Thunder.
And with OKC dispatching San Antonio with some thunderous ball in six games, we’ll see Golden State’s first true test of the season. For folks that are disappointed at the Spurs, who bowed out after a fantastic regular season, you shouldn’t be, as this could be the best conference championship out west since the Sacramento Kings, with Mike Bibby, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, gave Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers, who were gunning for three-peat, a thrilling run for their money back in 2002.
This year’s Western Conference Finals will be jam-packed with star power. It will also add a new wrinkle to the postseason narrative, as this is the first time these two teams have met in the playoffs since OKC was known as its previous incarnation, the Seattle Supersonics.
That was back when Chris Mullin couldn’t miss, when Bishop lost his mind in Juice, when Gerard’s pops was stressing the importance of coordination in Boomerang, and when Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield gave us that classic tenth round back in 1992.
The Warriors are trying to get to back-to-back NBA Finals for the first time in team history since Harry Truman defeated Thomas Dewey in the presidential election in 1948, back when the franchise was still in Philadelphia.
And for all the fools who clown Kevin Durant and somehow are uninformed enough to call him soft and doubt his credentials as one of the best, most dynamic players this game has ever seen, this is the fourth time in six years that he has the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
This series is a hoops lover’s wet dream, featuring a handful of some of the very best and most entertaining players in the league. Obviously, everything starts and ends with Steph Curry, whose work over the past two years have defied reality.
Steph’s current season is the best that the league has ever seen from beyond the three-point line, both in sheer volume and in terms of makes. My man has stroked at least three shots from deep a mind-boggling 67 times. Equally unbelievable is that he’s knocked down eight in a game or more on 29 separate occasions.
That’s more unimaginable than Donald Trump’s wig-piece being a presidential front-runner.
Only three players have ever managed to shoot 50+% from the field, 45+% from deep and 90+% from the free-throw line in a season: Steve Nash, Curry and the guy who happens to be his head coach, Steve Kerr.
His Player Efficiency Rating this year, the best ever posted by a point guard, trails only LeBron’s 2009 and 2013 campaigns, Jordan’s in 1988 and 1991, and Wilt Chamberlain’s in 1962, 1963 and 1964.
But this series is much bigger than just Chef Curry adding more delicious dishes to his already scrumptious menu. It also features the last player to wear the MVP crown in KD. Add Russell Westbrook into the equation and now we have six of the seven most recent NBA scoring champions.
Now throw Draymond Green and Klay Thompson into that mix, and we have close to half of what should be this summer’s Team USA Olympic squad in Rio.
The Thunder have yet to solve the Curry conundrum, as he’s averaged 35 points per game against them this year. But despite his brilliance, OKC has been in every game coming down the stretch against the Warriors, despite losing all three.
Durant ate up the Warriors as well, averaging 36 in those three regular season games. The key for OKC is rather simple: Russell Westbrook must take care of the ball. When his turnovers are down, they can beat anyone.
Despite the perception that their offense is disjointed, rookie head coach Billy Donovan deserves props for overseeing one of the most efficient attacks in the league.
Golden State is exceptional, but they can be beaten. They love the transition game, but no team in the league is more lethal in transition offense than the Thunder, thanks to Westbrook, whose kamikaze-like drives to the rim create great looks, and not just for KD.
Dion Waiters, Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter and others will all have to play at the crescendo of their capabilities, but the defensive convergence that Westbrook causes will give them ample opportunities to shine.
And for the plethora of offensive sexiness that abounds all over the court, the Adams vs Andrew Bogut matchup in the paint will be a case study in the hidden combat of post play.
The Thunder can score the ball as well as anyone, but they struggle with elite teams on the defensive end. That doesn’t seem to bode well in a matchup against the squad that is on a mission to prove that they’re the greatest NBA team ever.
This series will be incredibly dramatic and volatile throughout. It has everything that you could ask for: superstars, high-octane offenses, fantastic personalities and a number of players who will ultimately go down as All-Time greats.
Both the Warriors and the Thunder have never been tested to this extent. Buckle up for some unexpected, unpredictable explosiveness.
It should be one of the greatest Conference Finals that the game has ever seen.