The big story coming out of Oklahoma City’s 133–105 thrashing of Golden State was not how excellent Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant played, or how poorly the Warriors performed, but this:
Why Draymond, why?
This low blow from Draymond Green on Steven Adams has been the center of all sports talk in the past 24 hours. The big question is whether or not the kick was intentional. Both coaches and nearly every player interviewed last night was asked, and if you follow the NBA at all you’ve probably seen a thousand takes on the subject, and for good reason.
So why is this such a big deal? The Thunder are a good enough team to thrash a fully staffed Warriors squad, let alone a team that is missing their defensive MVP. We’ve already seen the league suspend Dahntay Jones for acting a damn fool on the court, and give that Green had already went low on Adams this series, it’s a good possibility that the league will suspend Draymond for game five.
Golden State is already in a bad spot, and can ill afford to go down 3–1 to an OKC team that is playing the best basketball I’ve seen them play since their last Finals appearance. Green did not play well in game three. He missed lay-ups, turned the ball over a lot and finished the game -43 in plus/minus. To be fair, no one on the Warriors played well last night, but when Green is having a bad night it has a huge effect on the rest of the team.
Without Green the Warriors are much worse defensively, especially without his ability to defend smaller players like Westbrook and Durant off pick and rolls. They also lose one of the best passing big men in the league, and the master key in their offensive sets. As Golden State searches for answers in the coming games I suspect that one of the keys will be having Green guard Kevin Durant full time.
The Thunder have done a great job of exploiting the weaknesses of the Warriors small ball (sometimes referred to as “death lineup”) style by constantly driving to the rim and beating up Green on the glass with their athletic seven footers. They have seemingly solved the puzzle that teams around the league have been working on for almost two years. This puts Golden State in an awkward spot, they are best when they play small with Draymond Green playing center, but it’s clearly not working in this series.
Whether or not Draymond’s suspended for game four I suspect that Steve Kerr will start playing Bogut and Ezeli more minutes. Bogut was in foul trouble right off the back in game three, but his size and defense are desperately needed against this Thunder lineup. The problem with playing Bogut big minutes is that he is not fast enough to effectively help and recover and pick and rolls involving Steven Adams. Ezeli has the athleticism to hang with Adams but is not dearly as adept of an offensive player as Bogut, and the Warriors lose a lot of their potency when he is on the court.
The difference in playstyles has made this matchup a real pleasure to watch. Thunder head coach Bill Donovan has shown a deft hand in handling his player rotations in this series. He has shortened his bench, only playing seven or eight guys in any given game. He’s put a very short leash on Enes Kanter, a player who can add a lot with his size and offensive skill set but is very exploitable by the Warriors pick and roll game. Donavan has gotten Kanter out of the game every time he starts hurting the team on defense. He has also braved it out with his big lineups when Golden State has gone small, and last night that decision was key in their win.
There are going to be times when the Warriors are going to hit threes and get steals and there’s nothing you are going to be able to do about it, but the Thunder have proven that if you can hang in their on defense and keep turnovers down, you can win with superior size. Of course it helps that OKC has guys like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant who can combine for 66 points and 14 assists, but it’s the ability of the Thunder to block shots and secure defensive rebounds that has sling shot their two offensive killers into easy looks in transition.
Which brings us back to that crotch shot. The league has been put in an impossible situation here. If they chose to suspend Green and the Thunder go on to win game four and the series, they will be shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to NBA Finals ratings as well as the brand of the biggest draw in the league. If they do not suspend Green then they will be called hypocrites and have to deal with bad press for the next couple of weeks. For me the former sounds a lot worse than the latter, and I suspect that Green will not be suspended.
Either way this series is going to be even more heated as both teams desperately try to get an edge. Right now the Thunder hold home court advantage and have been the better team in the series. The onus is now on the Warriors to make the right adjustments and get back into this series. Both teams have shown an ability to blow one another out of the water. The argument being made by both coaches being played out by their teams styles is one of the more interesting strategic battles I’ve seen in a playoffs series. It’s clear now that either team could win this thing, and once we get past the distraction of “the kick tweeted around the world” we are in for some great basketball.