After two games in the Western Conference Finals, the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder are set to square off in Oklahoma City on Sunday night with the series tied. Getting a split on the Warriors’ home court is a nice achievement for the Thunder, but there are some causes for concern for Oklahoma City heading into Game 3.
“They were sending three guys,” said Kevin Durant after the Thunder fell to the Warriors in Game 2. “I was trying to make the right pass. I was turning the ball over, playing to the crowd. So, maybe I’ve just got to shoot over three people.”
Durant was clearly frustrated after the Warriors stifled the Thunder and won Game 2 by a final score of 118-91. However, the final score wasn’t the only thing for Durant to be frustrated about. As he said in the above quote, the Warriors swarmed him all night with multiple defenders. Unfortunately for Durant and the Thunder, the Warriors can get away with this extremely aggressive defensive scheme for several reasons, including the poor shooting of Andre Roberson.
Here are just two examples of how the Warriors guarded Roberson in Game 2.
The Warriors are an extremely effective defensive team and are even more dangerous when they can consistently exploit an opponents’ weakness. Roberson’s poor shooting allowed the Warriors to not just sag off of him, but to essentially ignore him completely, allowing Draymond Green to play like a free safety.
“[Green has] been able to roam around and provide a lot of different help,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “When he’s doing that, we’ve got to recognize the way the floor is balanced … It doesn’t always mean Andre’s going to be open for a shot, but he may be open to create an opportunity for somebody else.”
As Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript pointed out in this piece, the Thunder shot 48 percent on drives to the basket during the regular season, but are now connecting on just 32 percent of these shots against the Warriors through two games.
Of course, this isn’t exactly shocking when you consider that the Warriors are a smart, disciplined team. They have some of the most versatile wing-defenders in the league, the runner up for this season’s Defensive Player of the Year award and rim protectors like Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli on the roster. But add those ingredients together with the fact that the Warriors are ignoring Roberson and packing the paint, and we get plays like the one we see in this screenshot.
As Durant pointed out after the game, he was often operating against two and sometimes three defenders (especially when Roberson was on the court). In the clip below, the Warriors ignore Roberson on the perimeter and send two defenders at Durant. To Roberson’s credit, he recognizes this and makes himself a threat by cutting to the basket. However, Roberson runs into Bogut and is unable to finish at the rim.
When asked about the effect Green’s roaming defense has on the Thunder’s offense, Donovan asserted that moving the ball and finding an open man would address the problem.
“Well, it doesn’t really,” Donovan reiterated. “I think that for us, it was just a matter of getting good shots, creating good shots, making the extra pass and finding the open man.”
However, as we just saw in the clip above, Durant found the open man, who still ended up taking a contested shot at the rim. With the Warriors’ defenders hounding Durant on the perimeter and packing the paint, it’s difficult for the Thunder to swing the ball and exploit the Warriors’ defense. While resorting to hero ball and shooting over three defenders seems like a recipe for disaster, Durant did find more success in Game 2 when he made quick decisions and attacked on offense.
In this clip, Durant uses the threat of a screen from Adams to get a little bit of separation from Andre Iguodala. With a quick shot, Durant found himself an open look against a single defender.
The same was true even when Durant was handling the ball. With Dion Waiters on the court, rather than Roberson, Durant had a little more space to operate. With a decisive pull up jumper coming off of a high screen from Adams, Durant got a decently clean look against one defender on this play.
Waiters may not be the most dependable shooting guard in the league, but he has stretched the Warriors’ defense out more than Roberson, as we can see in this screenshot.
Here, we see Green guarding Waiters out to the three-point line, which he essentially did not have to do with Roberson on the court. The Warriors are still in a nice collective defensive position against the Thunder in this set, but at least Durant doesn’t have multiple defenders cheating over prematurely. Again, the extra space that Waiters creates may not seismically shift the Thunder’s fortunes in Game 3, but it should help a little.
This is especially true when you consider that the Thunder have been outscored by 29.2 points per 100 possessions in the 36 minutes that Roberson has played in this series, which is the worst net rating on the team by almost 10 points.
However, the Thunder’s problems go beyond Roberson’s shooting and Durant being smothered. While the Thunder have benefited from the collective length and size of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter throughout these playoffs, they are not exactly well-equipped to check Stephen Curry on switches. Curry exploited this in Game 2 and will likely continue to do so moving forward.
To Adams’ credit, any big man is going to be vulnerable one-on-one against Curry and Adams moves decently well in this next clip, but Curry is too skilled and too quick for the big man to keep up with.
Ibaka has struggled to stick with Curry as well and it’s even more difficult when he has to try and cover him out of defensive rotations forced by the Warriors’ ball movement.
Despite having superior mobility for a big man, Ibaka has never been great at defending guards and wing-players on the perimeter. If the Warriors can consistently put him, Adams and Kanter into situations like this, the Thunder are likely going to suffer from several more offensive explosions from Curry. The Thunder are at a severe disadvantage in guarding Curry on switches, so it is imperative their big men collectively punish the Warriors on the glass and with second-chance points. However, that may be a lot to ask when you consider how much ground these players are being asked to cover on defense, which is surely causing them to get tired more than normal.
Though Game 2 showed us how vulnerable Oklahoma City is with Roberson’s shooting and Curry attacking the Thunder’s bigs, the Thunder can make some adjustments. Based on what we saw in Game 2, the Thunder need to at least consider moving away from Roberson altogether. While he is a nice defender, his poor shooting allows Green to play like a free safety on defense. Green is a smart defender and will continue to stifle the Thunder’s offense more than he normally would when playing a more traditional brand of defense. At least with Waiters on the court, Green at least has to consider guarding out to the three-point line.
Also, as we saw above, the Thunder need to get the ball to Durant coming off of multiple screens so he can take quick jumpers against rotating defenders. He won’t get an open look every time, but he’ll likely get better shots than he did when he called for the ball in isolation against multiple defenders. Additionally, when Waiters is on the court, Durant should probably handle the ball more frequently and attack the rim aggressively coming off of high screens set by his bigs.
These adjustments may not be enough to shift the tide in Game 3, but every bit helps against the Warriors.
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