OAKLAND, Sporting Alert – The Oklahoma City Thunder v the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 on Monday night 16 May. Live on TNT Network, starting at 9:00 pm. Follow Live GameCast the ORACLE Arena at ESPN.
After beating the opening odds and upsetting San Antonio in the second round of the playoffs, Oklahoma City will seek to carry over that form into its Western Conference Finals series with Golden State on the road.
With Kevin Durant finally back to his best and Russell Westbrook continuing to play like the superstar he truly is, the Thunder, despite losing all three games in the regular season with the Warriors, enter the opening game of the conference finals series confident about creating another shocking upset.
Durant and Westbrook were both impressive for Oklahoma City in its 113-99 victory at home against the Spurs last week to take that semi-finals series 4-2, while covering the spread as underdogs.
“We know exactly what we’re up against,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They’ve been one of the best teams in the league for the last six-seven years.
“The reality is in this league all you can ask for is to give yourself a swing at the plate every year, and they’ve had a lot of swings and they’ve come really, really close.”
Golden State, led by the reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who is fit again, following knee and ankle setbacks, were just as impressive in putting away the Portland Trail Blazers in its conference semi-final series, and they will be just as confident heading into Monday’s contest.
In their three regular-season battles this year, the Thunder held the advantage in the fourth quarters, but struggled to finish off the job, with Durant, although averaging 36.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists in those three games against Golden State in the 2015-16 season, evidently going missing in the closing moments.
The All-Star forward dominated the early goings of all the three previous games, but according to ESPN Stats & Info, he disappears in the last 3:00 minutes of the all three fourth quarters and overtime – going 1-of-7 and shooting 14.3 percent during that time.
However, one player, for sure the Warriors must keep pace with is the streaking All-Star point guard Westbrook, who averaged 25 points, 10.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds in the three meetings this season.
The defending champions have been preparing for his explosive style of play and will be hoping to force him into taking jump shots.
At the same time, as well, Kerr noted that the Thunder better stay close to his marksman Curry, who like Westbrook, has the ability to take over a game at any time – just ask Portland about that.
“They both have the ability to dominate games,” Kerr said following his team practice last Friday.
“They have abilities that are exclusive to themselves. Nobody can simulate Russell Westbrook, and I don’t think anybody can simulate Steph.”
Curry, who has punished Oklahoma City with some big shots during the regular-season series, including that late half-court overtime winning shot in Oklahoma City back in February, added: “He’s obviously explosive and does some crazy stuff that I personally can’t do.”
The Warriors are the heavy favourites heading into this series, and many, including ESPN’s Skip Bayless, think Oklahoma City will be an easy brush off.
However, Curry knows better, especially after watching the Spurs series.
“They’re an explosive team. They’re clicking right now and found a good recipe to beat a tough Spurs team,” said Curry.
“That says a lot about how they’re playing right now.
“The last three years against them it’s been pretty entertaining games, most of the time going down to the wire, so you can only imagine what it will be like in the playoffs.
“Every possession’s going to be key.”
Durant has been hitting form again at the right time and after shooting 50 percent against the Spurs, the Warriors better take note.
Golden State has won seven of the last ten meetings overall against Oklahoma City, including six of the last seven. The defending champions have also won four straight at home against Westbrook, Durant and company.
The Warriors averaged 118 points per game in the three meetings this season with OKC.
Andrew Bogut C Day-to-Day (adductor)
Kevon Looney F Out For Season (hip)
No Injuries To Report.