A look at the Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder (with regular-season and playoff records):
No. 1 GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (73-9, 8-2) vs. No. 3 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (55-27, 8-3)
Season series: Warriors, 3-0. Golden State won twice at home, and its lone trip to Oklahoma City in the regular season delivered a spectacular finish. The Thunder were up by 11 with less than 5 minutes left in regulation, up by four with 15 seconds remaining in the fourth, and up four with 1:41 left in overtime – before Stephen Curry’s 3-pointer that dropped with 0.6 seconds left gave the Warriors a 121-118 victory. He made 12 3s that night. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to average 61.3 points in the three games, and it still wasn’t enough. Curry averaged 35 points in the series for Golden State, and Klay Thompson averaged 23.7.
Story line: Golden State’s pursuit of a second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals continues, and it’s no surprise that the Warriors are back in the conference title round. Their opponent is a bit of a surprise. The Thunder knocked out San Antonio in six games, looking every bit like a title contender. Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat called the Thunder “scary” and said this team from OKC is better than the one that reached the NBA Finals in 2012.
Key Matchup: Everyone not named Curry and Thompson vs. Everyone not named Durant and Westbrook. It’s too simplistic to say Curry vs. Westbrook is the key matchup, or Durant vs. Thompson. The superstar scorers will be superstars, and yes, they’ll leave the biggest fingerprints on the series. But the place that both sides likely see the potential for separation is the third and fourth options that will be on the court at a given time. Serge Ibaka has been consistent for the Thunder, and in the Spurs series Steven Adams and Andre Roberson came up huge. For the Warriors, it’s the Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala types who will need to take pressure off the two-time MVP in Curry. The team with the better supporting cast will be the one going to the NBA Finals.
X-Factor: Thunder coach Billy Donovan. He won two national championships at Florida, so the fact that he can coach really shouldn’t be a surprise. But in the Spurs series, he was never rattled – absolutely crucial after a Game 1 thumping in San Antonio. That series could have fallen apart right then and there, and then Donovan managed to engineer two road wins on a floor where the Spurs had been 40-1 in the regular season.
Prediction: Warriors in 6.