Russell Westbrook is going to be matched up defensively on Stephen Curry (as he was almost every time they met the last couple seasons) when the Warriors and Thunder tip off Monday night. There will be switching and cross matching (a lot in this series), but it is not overstating the facts to say if Westbrook isn’t great defensively the Thunder cannot win.
Westbrook doesn’t lack for confidence. Here is what he said at shootaround Monday, via Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman.
If you didn’t watch the video, here is the money quote:
“He’s a shooter. He’s not nothing I haven’t seen. Him, (Damian) Lillard, guys like that can shoot the basketball from four or five feet behind the three. You got to do a little, different job. Just be physical.”
We’re just going to ignore the double negative.
You hear this a lot from casual fans, “teams should just push Curry around, he can’t handle it.” Yes, he can. He’s been handling it since Davidson. If you don’t think NBA teams have gone down this road before — and especially this season when the referees seemed to back off a few degrees on calling hand checking — then you haven’t been paying attention. It’s not that simple.
Tony Parker was able to create space at times against Westbrook last round (especially when they chased him over the top of picks for a while), but the result was mid-range jumpers, mostly. Do that to Curry and he will drive the rim harder (he’s become a good finisher inside), he will step back for the three, or he draws some help and then finds one of the four other shooters on the floor. Plus, if you’re Westbrook, get too physical, and you risk foul trouble.
Westbrook (and everyone) will try to make Curry put the ball on the floor and force him to drive. It’s what must be done, the Thunder can’t have Curry just raining threes, but it’s not easy to slow Curry even if you chase him off the line. Or the Warriors’ offense because Curry’s gravity draws defenders to him and it opens up shooting room for Klay Thompson, space for Draymond Green to be a playmaker, and a host of other problems.
But at least Westbrook is confident.