What is stunning is not that the Warriors lost two games in a row, it’s how they lost them — the length and athleticism of the Oklahoma City Thunder have completely overwhelmed the Warriors. The 73-win defending champions have been completely outclassed and have lost their poise. How do they get that swagger back? Here are the five things they need to do to win Game 5, the first step on the road to their long-shot comeback.
1) Stephen Curry and Draymond Green need to play much better. We start with the obvious — Golden State’s best players simply have to play better. For Curry, the combination of the length and athleticism of the Thunder defenders, plus the fact he just doesn’t look 100 percent, have led to some ugly shooting numbers (6-of-20 shooting last game, he’s 5-of-21 from three the last two games) plus a lot of ugly turnovers. The Warriors are doing a seamless job with their switching of picks on- and off-the-ball, cutting off a lot of the gaps and driving lanes Curry likes to take advantage of. The Thunder are making things hard for him and being physical with him. But now even when Curry has gotten space to shoot a three — and he has gotten enough space at times — or when he has blown past his defender and gotten to the rim, he’s missed. Plus, the length of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka have blown up the Curry/Green pick-and-roll that is at the heart of Golden State’s “death lineup.”
Likely because of lingering knee issues, Curry lacks the same explosiveness, he’s off just a little, and that with the length of Thunder defenders that takes away his margin for error. Simply put, Curry has to turn it around. We’ve seen flashes of elite Curry these playoffs — fourth quarter and OT of Game 4 vs. Portland, the third quarter of Game 2 vs. OKC — but the MVP Curry of the regular season sustained those kinds of runs, he was far more consistent. The Warriors need that Curry back.
And as bad as Curry has been, Green has been worse — Green is -73 in the last two games. He is 2-of-13 shooting with nine turnovers in the last six quarters of basketball this series. He has been slow footed on defense. Again the length and athleticism of the Thunder are giving him problems inside, ones he hasn’t just been able to overcome with intensity and effort (because the Thunder have matched it). Green also has to get back to his All-Star form, his All-Defensive team form, or the Warriors are not the same.
2) Play better transition defense. That Thunder defense is forcing turnovers and missed shots, which in turn is leading to transition chances for the Thunder — and Russell Westbrook is not being stopped in transition. The Thunder are +17 this series in fast break points against the team nobody wanted to run with. The Warriors have to limit turnovers, start knocking down some shots, but also defend better when they get back in transition (they got back a little better last game, but they looked more like traffic cones for the Thunder players to dribble around then active defenders).
3) Andrew Bogut has to stay on the court, other Warrior bigs need to step up. Steve Kerr talked about this — the Warriors are +12 points per 100 possessions this series when Bogut is on the court, their defense improves 15.9 points per 100 possessions. The Warriors need more Bogut, the problem is he’s garnered 13 fouls in just 56 minutes of action. He’s almost always in foul trouble, in part because the Thunder are attacking (and the aggressors get the calls in the NBA). But Bogut — and Festus Ezeli, ideally less Anderson Varejao (if any) — have to do a much better job both protecting the rim and grabbing rebounds. The Warriors are getting destroyed on the glass (OKC is one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA).
“We’re forcing stops, we’re getting stops, but we’re not going and getting the ball,” Kerr said. “We have to be able to chase down loose balls and long rebounds. Otherwise, they’re getting just way too many possessions compared to us.”
4) Time to guard Andre Roberson a a little, maybe with Curry so he’s not getting torched by Westbrook. The Warriors tried to give Roberson the Tony Allen treatment — “cover” him with a big who stays near the basket to protect the rim, daring Roberson to shoot from the outside. Well, in Game 3 Roberson was 3-of-5 from three. In Game 4, Billy Donovan brilliantly started using Roberson like a center on offense — setting picks and rolling to the rim, or making cuts to the basket — which led to 17 points. The Warriors have to start covering him. Might I suggest putting Curry on him? Because for large swaths of the last couple games Curry has been on Westbrook and that has been a disaster for Golden State — Curry simply is not going to be able to stay in front of Westbrook. Not that anyone can, but the Warriors have better options.
5) Stop turning the ball over. We started with an obvious one, we’ll end with an obvious one — the length and active hands of the Thunder on defense has forced a lot of Golden State turnovers. But the Warriors have helped out, Curry in particular in Game 4 made some ill-advised passes — this is not the Portland defense anymore. The Warriors like to have a lot of flair, some playground in their game, but they need to be careful with that this series. Those turnovers have led to transition buckets for the Thunder, fueling the runs that put the Warriors in holes they have not been able to climb out of. The Warriors need to take care of the ball.
The Warriors may well be able to do all five of these things well enough to win at home Thursday, but could they do it on the road in a Game 6 is another question. The Warriors aren’t worrying about that yet; they need to get things right in Game 5 or their playoff run ends tonight.