The Perfect StormDate: May 26, 2016
By George Balekji
SHIP BOTTOM, NJ - During the NBA finals last June, credit was given where it was deserved, to Matthew Dellevedova.
Of course the series resulted in Golden State hoisting the trophy that mattered most, but for two games all that was talked about was the play of the Australian-Italian.
Delly’s fly-paper defense on Steph Curry, suddenly made the 2015 league MVP seem mortal. Shooting 34% from the floor with 12 turnovers in the lone two losses in the finals for the Warriors was the result from this defense. But after a game three loss, the future back-to-back MVP kept his answers to the media simple; reiterating how he will watch film and figure out a way to break the chains that limited his offensive game.
Bring in the latter three games of the series. The Warriors ran away with the title as the best team in the NBA and put a hold on LeBron James’ third ring.
Now fast forward to May of 2016. 73 wins, just two home losses in the regular season and the repeating NBA MVP are what the Warriors entered the postseason boasting.
The storming duo from Oklahoma City have been on a mission to show what is accomplished in the playoffs is all that matters. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook ripped through the superior Western Conference against Dallas and San Antonio, to finally challenge the elite of the league, which has equated to a 3 – 1 series lead over the Warriors. But how?
This time, the story line isn’t Curry struggling. Some expected that as he returned from a sprained MCL suffered in GSW’s first round series against the Rockets; just ask Billy Donovan about the personal 15-2 the Golden State floor general ripped for a 1:58 gap in the second quarter of game two. This time, it is the entire team who is unable to put together a full game, or even full half.
But give credit where it is due.
Instead it is time for everyone to take notice of the defensive performance by Oklahoma City. This is not the product of an individual’s effort from one star or role player. What makes this fight different is the constant play of the five on the floor for the Thunder.
In the battle of the point guards, Russell Westbrook has dominated Steph Curry head-to-head, always being a step ahead of him on both ends of the floor.
Battling a staggered Curry, the Thunder defense as a whole have constantly smothered him giving the guard no chance to work with the ball and establish his jumper. Just a week ago, experts and fans threw their hands up in amazement at the space Curry was given to play by opposing defenses, but it appears Donovan had one simple solution, suffocation.
Curry nor Kerr have used his MCL as an excuse for Warriors offense that is gasping for air, because Steven Adams have given them a reason not to.
Normally the Warriors thrive on the Curry and Green pick-and-roll to draw mismatches, but Adams’ athleticism on the perimeter has rendered it ineffective. He truly can last on an island with Curry from outside that the Cavalier bigs didn’t even come close to touching in last year’s finals.
Now the correlation from this drought affecting the rest of the offense is a drop in Draymond’s all-around game.
All his prior postseason numbers have perished in the series with The Thunder. 44% Shooting and 22 PPG against the Trailblazers have fallen to 33% and 11.3 PPG, with only six points in each of the last two games. The direct relationship between Curry and Green is shown first hand as one’s play from the perimeter decreases, so does the other’s in the paint and around the rim.
Russell Westbrook and Cameron Payne have a ritual of dancing right before every tip this season, but give credit to his teammates around him as Westbrook is one victory away from dancing to the second finals appearance of his career.
For Billy Donovan, he is making a case as the best coach in Thunder Franchise history. It won’t be easy against the Warriors, as 73 wins don’t just happen.
Praise will come not only for their chance at another final, but for instilling the best reason to keep Kevin Durant in blue and orange passed this season. Just make sure to give credit where it is due.