Unpredictability makes sports exciting. Just when you think you know enough to predict the outcome, the game goes a different way. The current Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder has been nothing but unpredictable.
The road to the Western Finals has been improbable more for OKC than the Warriors. A lot of experts were proven wrong when OKC beat the seemingly invincible San Antonio Spurs. Before the season began the Spurs were the consensus Champions.
When they acquired LaMarcus Aldridge during the off-season, the all star was the final piece to the puzzle. The Spurs already had their veteran trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker who arguably is the winningest team of the past 16 years with 5 championships. The aging trio is strengthened by now two-time Defensive Player of the Year Khawi Leonard and shooter Danny Green. With power forward Aldridge they’d be unstoppable. In a sense they were, they had the better regular season record (than OKC). They managed to avoid injuries.
OKC however achieved the improbable when they beat the Spurs in the second round. They defeated the much-vaunted Spurs by 14 in games 4&6! Everyone knows and sees that OKC has the most talented and athletic team not just this year but perhaps the past 5 since they got to the finals in 2011. But talent and athleticism can only take you so far.
Mental fortitude, discipline, teamwork is what OKC has never completely shown, the way the Spurs and the Warriors have made them their signature. These 3 aspects are necessary most especially in defense.
Finally, the Thunder had a stifling defense and good decision-making in the 4th quarter to soundly beat the Spurs. They put it all together in a series that ended 4-2. The athleticism of Russell Westbrook, the size, mobility and 3 point shooting of Kevin Durant (former MVP) now had the defense and of André Roberson, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams. OKC was finally living up to their potential.
Before the season began, the Golden State Warriors were NOT predicted to repeat as champions. Most experts chose the Spurs, others looked East as the Cavaliers will have both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving healthy. A lot of critics pointed out that Golden State was lucky during the previous playoffs as point guards of opposing teams such as Chris Paul (Clippers) and Mike Conley Jr (Memphis) fell to injury. This made it a lot easier for Steph Curry to rain down treys and dominate the game.
Then the improbable and unpredictable happened. Golden State went on to have the best season start in history with a 24 game winning streak. Steph Curry who was last year’s MVP became an even better player, improving in almost every category and breaking his own record getting 400 3ptrs (among others) in the regular season. Steph became the first ever to be voted unanimously for the MVP award this year. No one has ever been voted unanimously in NBA history, not Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain or LeBron James.
They have also broken the Chicago Bulls record for most regular season wins during the Michael Jordan era in 1996. The Warriors’ storied 73-9 record have naturally made them the favorites to win the NBA Championship, even when that wasn’t the case before the season began.
Western Conference Finals
These are the two paths the powerhouse teams went through to get to the Western Conference Finals. In my mind not only were the games unpredictable but the series to me is one of the most exciting in recent years.
OKC took game 1 and then walloped the Warriors in game 3 (133-105) and game 4 (118-94) an average of 26pts. The last time the Warriors lost back-to-back games was in 2013. It looked very much like OKC will be dispatching the defending champs the way they did the dreaded Spurs. Again, OKC did it with their team defense coupled with the firepower of Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook. The two superstars combined for 63pts in game 3 and 62pts in game 4.
The numbers weren’t looking good for The Warriors. Less than 10% of the teams that have fallen 3-1 have ever won the series. Kobe Bryant texted Draymond Green telling him that if overcoming a 3-1 deficit and winning a championship was easy, everyone could do it. Kobe added that they should stay in it mentally so they can pull it off.
For basketball pundits even THE STARTERS, Tas Melas thought the Warriors were done. OKC according to Charles Barkley has always been the most talented squad. For game 5 the series returned to ‘Roaracle’ Arena in the Bay Area. The urgency, home crowd helped. Aussie Andrew Bogut saddled w fouls in the series came alive against New Zealander Steven Adams scoring 15 points. Mareese Speights, Shaun Livingston and Andre Igoudala went on a tear in the 3Q. Curry & Klay put the Warriors up permanently to win 120-111.
The real challenge came in Game 6. OKC had embarrassed the Warriors in games 3&4 in Chesapeake Energy Arena. The OKC bench contributed early. Serge Ibaka had a good game inside the paint as well as Ennis Kanter. The Thunder was leading for 4 quarters. Klay Thompson’s incredible shooting was the only thing that kept the Warriors close. Klay ended up breaking the playoff record for 3 pointers with eleven. The previous playoff record of nine 3-pointers made was shared by Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Rex Chapman and Jason Terry.
Steph caught on fire in the last 3 minutes, with key defensive stops by Igoudala on Rus sealed the deal 108-101. The OKC crowd was in shock, speechless after Steph’s incredulous semi-hook above Ibaka’s outstretched hands and key steal during OKC’s possession in the last 20 seconds. It all happened so quickly. Thompson ended the night w 41 pts while Steph had 31.
I personally have given up trying to predict the outcome of the playoffs, as it can still go either way. The same goes for the Finals and eventual champion. One thing is clear, IF the Warriors win the series over the Thunder in game 7, they can be considered as one of the best teams in NBA history.
Having achieved the unbelievable 73 game regular season and then having to overcome the size, athleticism and adversity from OKC, they have earmarked their position as one of the best ever. They will prove their mental toughness if they come back from a 3-1 deficit. Rick Fox noted in the post game 6 analysis, that based on the regular season records, the winner of the Western Conference Finals is the eventual NBA champions. But also stated that this isn’t always the case.
There’s a big IF there as we’ve seen the unpredictability, which makes us love the game and makes victory that much sweeter. For fans it’s not about the numbers. The reason I prefer the Warriors to the Thunder and even the Cavs is the uncharacteristic modesty, humility of their superstar leaders Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and even their coach Steve Kerr. Now people have the chance to cheer on the ‘nice guy’ to win and make them believe.
Tanduay Rhum is a sponsor of the NBA Finals airing in ABS CBN Sports