This article was originally published in the latest edition of The Morning Mando.
Facing elimination, the Golden State Warriors regained their swagger in a 120-111 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. In my estimation, it was Golden State’s most complete performance of the series, which should serve them in good stead as the series heads back to Oklahoma City Saturday night.
There was a lot to like about the Warriors Game 5 victory, but I’ll point out three things in particular.
- Stephen Curry was assertive: In order for Golden State to climb out of a 3-2 hole, Curry needs to be as much of a presence offensively as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been for the Thunder up to this point. He was exactly that last night. While Curry could still cut down on some reckless turnovers, he also did a great job attacking the paint and being active on the defensive end (although apparently not according to Russell Westbrook).
- Golden State was much better defensively: The Warriors set the tone of the game by limiting Oklahoma City to one of its worst shooting quarters of the series in the first. And by the end of the game, it was clear based on a number of stats that their defensive performance was much improved. After being significantly outrebounded in all three of their losses, Golden State finally had the edge in total rebounds. The Warriors also had the clear edge in points in the paint (48 to 30). But I think the key stat was that after allowing a little more than 120 points per 100 possessions against the Thunder in Game’s 3 &4, the Warriors held them to only 109.1 points/100 last night. With the way the Warriors are capable of scoring, two more defensive performances like last night should be enough to win the series.
- The Warriors bench outplayed Oklahoma City’s: One of the keys to Oklahoma City being able to take a 3-1 advantage was that they were getting solid production from the likes of Dion Waiters, Steven Adams, and company. But in Game 5, it was the Warriors supporting cast who showed up: Marreese “Mo Buckets” Speights had 14 points in nine minutes, Andre Iguodala had eight assists to go along with eight points, and Andrew Bogut had his first double-digit rebound game of the series. In all, the Warriors bench outscored the Thunder’s 30-13.
Oklahoma City, though, should be commended for the way they hung around even though you could tell it wasn’t going to be their night. With that said, as we head towards Game 6, the pressure is firmly on the Thunder. The main reason why is that the Warriors thrive off momentum, and that’s exactly what they have after their Game 5 win.
The other reality the Thunder are starting to confront is that the Warriors are the better team. Now, that doesn’t mean Oklahoma City can’t win this series, or else I wouldn’t have picked them. But the numbers don’t lie. In terms of point differential, the Warriors were the superior team in the regular season. In terms of efficiency, they were also better offensively and defensively. And on top of that, the Warriors are the superior shooting team and possess the deeper bench. What this means is that the longer this series goes, the greater chance the better team has to win.
So what does Oklahoma City need to do to close this series out? It starts with dominating the glass once again. The Thunder owned the boards in their wins, but, as already mentioned, the Warriors had the advantage in Game 5. Moreover, the Thunder will need more from their supporting players as well because Durant and Westbrook weren’t the problems on Thursday night. The troubling sign for the Thunder, though, is that they will need Golden State to not be as sharp as they were in Game 5. Simply put, there’s no team that can stop the Warriors if they are on.
Game 6 will be one of the most highly-anticipated non-NBA Finals games I can remember. I’ll hold off on making a prediction until tomorrow, but I’ll end by saying that Oklahoma City better hope that Golden State doesn’t have their mojo back.