The Golden State Warriors (5-3) take on the Oklahoma City Thunder (5-2) tonight in a matchup between two of the top teams in the Western Conference.
How should the Warriors defend against the potent offense of the Thunder? Here’s a breakdown of their starting lineup:
vs. Russell Westbrook:
The blur is a one man fast break. He will break your ankles and then finish on your bigs. Dribbling the ball around him is dangerous, as he’ll pick your pocket. Watch out because he’s a passing lanes thief as well.
Westbrook is a career 30 percent 3-point shooter who took a career high 300 from behind the arc last year. This means that the Warriors can still play him a step or two back. Be prepared for shots to fly; he averaged 18.7 last season along with seven free throws per contest. 617 of his shots came from within seven feet and he shot 54 percent on those. From everywhere else, Westbrook went 369-901 which equates to 41 percent. Make him a jump shooter.
vs. Thabo Sefolosha:
This lockdown defender is adept at stripping the ball from players on their way up for a shot. He also happens to be a short porch specialist.
Sefolosha doesn’t have any mid-range game, taking only 62 shots from between seven feet and the 3-point line. So the Warriors should play up tight on him behind the line and shouldn’t even think for a second if he dribbles it by them that he’s going anywhere else but the rim. He took 142 shots from inside seven feet; he made 96 for 68 percent. Watch for the post fade if he does post you up. Where Thabo does his real damage from is the land of plenty, especially from the right short porch (33-62 for 53 percent) last year. From the left side of the 3-point arc he shot 45-103 at 44 percent. From the rest he went a plain 32- 94 for 34 percent.
vs. Kevin Durant:
Durant is the second best player in the NBA who doesn’t get his shot bothered by defenders. He is adept at creating his own shot and knocking it down, as well as finishing around the basket. He’s a microwave who usually saves his best for the fourth quarter.
Durant took 17.7 shots per contest last season. Believe it or not, the Warriors have to make Durant go left where he only shoots 50 percent (278-560). Going to his strong hand, he shoots an unbelievable 56 percent (374-670). These numbers reflect the entire court. His weak link offensively surprisingly comes from dead straight, shooting 38-105 at 36 percent from the top of the key. From the top of the key from three, he shot 35-89 for 39 percent. The Warriors should dare him to shoot from these localities any chance they get.
vs. Serge Ibaka:
Ibaka has the league leader in blocks for two years in a row. He is the anchor of the defense and a put-back specialist to boot.
Offensively, he’ll face you up. Ibaka has developed a jump shot and isn’t afraid to use it. Last season, he shot 168-329 for 51 percent on jumpers alone. The Warriors should keep him outside seven feet. Last season he dominated the inside shooting 233-331… that’s 70 percent!
He can even hit the right short porch three, going 9-16 at 56 percent last year. If the Warriors are going to let him shoot, they have to make sure it’s from the left elbow where he only managed 25-59 at 42%. There is one area he does struggle from, and that’s from seven to 14 feet in the paint (19-59 for 32%).
vs. Kendrick Perkins:
Kendrick Perkins: the screen setter from hell. The Warriors need to keep him out of the paint by doing their work early and forget about him. If he’s roaming offensively anywhere near the elbows, the Warriors should double team someone else. Same thing goes for any of their trucks off the bench. Don’t forget to rim-run all day.
Know the coach:
Scott Brooks is going to run, so look for early offense at every opportunity and try to get his shots from as close as possible. The Warriors should get back on defense and stack the middle.
Every Warrior ought to make a concious effort to know where the help defense is coming from against the Thunder. Spacing and ball movement will be key to victory every time the Warriors play the Thunder. One more for the road: the Thunder do not play any zone defense.