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The Thunder-Warriors Series: 3-1, Is It Over Or Did It Just Begin?

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City and Golden State are my two favorite basketball teams (read this delightful recounting of my last Warriors-Thunder game seated courtside), so I'm a bit conflicted as a fan, but as a pure basketball enthusiast, I've enjoyed this series immensely.

The Thunder hold a commanding 3-1 lead built mainly on their ability to impose their size and preferred style of frenetic play - and if you include the Spurs series - they've beaten the two best teams in the league 7 of their last 9.  This is a fairly remarkable achievement for the West's forgotten contender, with a postseason script already written for a disappointing early bow out and a free agent bidding war for Kevin Durant that would make a Lannister blush.

Sportswriters write these scripts constantly.  Forgetting that athletes get to say the lines how they like.

It's a cliche that styles make fights, but they also make basketball games.  Both observations intersecting neatly when a swiftly mentally deteriorating Draymond Green purposefully kicks a 7 foot Maori in the nuts.  Steven Adams has gone down on the court more than a Phoenix Suns dancer, but as he bears each outrage with Kiwi dignity and a surprising ability to handle Golden State's guards on switches, the once unflappable Warriors are unraveling at their inability to kill the Maori zombie (Adams is a fast zombie, 28 Days Later style).

Westbrook and Durant wrecking shop is not unexpected - particularly Westbrook, as Andre Iguodala is doing a hell of a job on Durant - but the immense contributions of OKC's role players have been a revelation and highlighted that Golden State's characteristic matchup exploitation is itself exploitable.  Adams, Durant and Ibaka are athletic and active enough to show and switch with minimal consequence, blunting Golden State's usual easy looks outside and their size on the boards and ease in transition is limiting the Warriors to single looks and leading to Westbrook friendly breaks going the other way.

And until you've seen Westbrook on the move at court level, you can't really understand what that's like to defend.

Similarly, while OKC will often struggle in half court with stale sets and regressions to old style NBA isolation, the pace of the game and the Thunder's ability to turn the Warriors over has ensured that Andre Roberson can stay on the court sinking open threes, missing free throws and molesting Warrior shooters, they can play with the pace and flow that support Westbrook's unique skill set and psychology, and unleash the most dynamic athlete (Westbrook) and arguably the most dangerous 3 on 2 finisher in basketball history (Durant) on a Golden State team that can't stop the bigger kids from doing what they want.

Similarly, Steven Adams has mind-fucked Draymond Green into being a sulky net negative rather than his normally brilliant gap-filling multi-tool self and destroyed the Warrior's ability to run effective offense from half court led by a point power forward, with all of the weird mismatches that creates right off of the bounce.  Draymond is shooting 34% on the series, his assists and rebounds are way down, the Thunder bigs are camped out in the paint and he turned it over 10 times in OKC's blowout wins over the last two games.  He's playing fairly execrable basketball.  The guy who gets under people's skins is squirming in his own, psychologically bested by a 7 foot dead ringer for Jemaine Clement from Flight of The Conchords (who once described his physical appearance "as a librarian crossed with an ogre").

You may have noticed I like Steven Adams a lot...

All of the above written, Golden State should bring the series to 3-2 in Oakland.  If OKC can't close it out at home in Game 6, Game 7 will shift the psychological burden from the Warriors to the Thunder and their stars will begin to feel the psychic weight of another Western Conference championship series frittered away, the chattering classes pronouncing the Durant-Westbrook pairing a fruitless waste of time, facing a 73 game regular season winner on the road with the future of the franchise at stake.

This series is over.  Or did it just begin?