You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss

You come at the king, you best not miss

Can the Golden State Warriors come back?

As the defending champions of the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are the current kings. LeBron James may disagree about the king moniker, but they sit atop the throne until someone else wins the NBA Finals. The Oklahoma City Thunder have the Warriors on the edge of elimination, leading Western Conference Finals series 3-1 before tonight’s game five in Oakland.

When you have the foot on the throat of the champion, you can’t let up.

Much like Omar Little from David Simon’s The Wire said, “You come at the king, you best not miss.”

The Thunder are so close to realizing what people have been predicting for them for a few years now. They can’t give the Warriors any hope that they can come back. While they have three games to win one, with the way momentum and confidence works, it’s in their best interest to close it out tonight.

Outside of game two, the Warriors haven’t shown that they deserve to be on the same court as Oklahoma City. It’s an unfamiliar place for them. All season long, beginning with the 24-game win streak to start the season, they’ve been a step above the entire NBA, winning a record best 73 regular season games.

But this postseason, it’s the Thunder who look like the 73-win team. It’s as if the NBA put the Snapchat face swap filter on the two teams.

As a Warriors fan, it’s easy to blame the poor play on something that you can’t measure such as will, or want, or heart. But you’d be shorting the Thunder terribly who are simply playing some of the best basketball I’ve ever seen in my life.

All season long, basketball talk started and stopped with this question: How do you stop the Warriors?

Some thought you had to stay big and pound the ball inside. Others thought you had to out-small them and catch fire. As it turns out, you simply have to be more athletic, longer, and have two of the best players on the planet to beat them. And it makes a whole lot of sense.

But still, this isn’t the same Thunder team who was constantly giving up big leads in the fourth quarter during the regular season. That team played a much longer bench, played without Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant at the same time during portions of games, and wouldn’t play a small ball lineup of Serge Ibaka and Durant at the center and power forward. I don’t know who got into Billy Donovan’s head, but they do those things now. Maybe Donovan had been saving those things all season long.

So now that the Warriors have met what looks to be their kryptonite, what do they do? Last year in the second round of the playoffs, the Warriors went down to the Memphis Grizzlies 2-1. But then they won three straight games after changing their defensive scheme to play zone on Tony Allen, daring him to shoot wide open shots. And those three games weren’t close. Similarly down 2-1 in the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Steve Kerr and his coaching staff decided to play small, inserting Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup, moving Harrison Barnes (aka Harry B) to power forward and Draymond Green to center. They won the next three games and the championship.

Are there any trump cards left that Kerr can play in this series?

Kerr’s been doing a quasi-Tony Allen move for much of this series, leaving shot-putting jump shooter Andre Roberson alone so that whoever is guarding him can roam and help on other players. But Roberson has been able to cut to the hoop and be part of the offense unlike Allen, who couldn’t really be on the court once they changed their scheme.

Serge and KevinKerr has also gone small, but Billy Donovan has countered with his version of small, even if his version of “small” features two athletic 6’10 guys with super long arms. Donovan’s version of small is running the Warriors’ version off the court.

Kerr could start Iguodala again, though keeping Andrew Bogut in the starting lineup. This way, Iguodala could start on Durant immediately and on offense, it gives the Warriors another ball handler. Offensively, Harry B has been okay for a few spot-up three pointers, but whenever he drives or tries to finish on the larger Thunder players, he resembles a baby giraffe on ice skates. That would also force Iguodala to player heavier minutes and the spark that he provides off the bench would be Barnes’ responsibility.

Kerr could tinker with how to start the offense. If the Thunder continue to trap Curry on the pick and roll, he could immediately pass to Draymond and try to get him a running start on a quick 4 on 3. Green’s decision making has been pretty awful during the series, but it could kick-start him. Similarly, they could just have him or Iguodala play point forward and try to get Curry and Klay Thompson running around screens, hoping that it would tire the super long Thunder, maybe getting them to their bench sooner.

Kerr may have to play a more straight-up style of defense, or at least mask his scheme a little bit. They’ll also need to keep the Thunder off the free throw line. In all three Thunder wins, they’ve outshot the Warriors at the free-throw line. In the Warriors one win, they went to the line more than the Thunder. Not only are the free throws free points, but it also allows the Thunder to set their defense, stopping the Warriors from getting to the pace they enjoy offensively.

Kerr needs to coach tonight’s game like it’s the last game of the season. If Thompson is hot, maybe try to get him a quick breather with a timeout rather than give him his specified rest. And try and keep Curry on the court with Thompson as much as possible, especially if Curry isn’t shooting well. Even struggling, the Thunder will pay more attention to Curry, leaving Thompson with better opportunities than if he was the main gun. When Curry is out, Thompson sometimes tries to replicate him and forces shots.

Also, much like Kerr did to Tony Allen, Donovan is making Festus Ezeli near unplayable by sending him to the free throw line whenever the Warriors are in the bonus. I thought Kerr was the best at the Hack-a strategy, but Donovan has outdone him.

Draymond and StephAfter stressing myself out thinking about ways the Warriors can perform a basketball miracle, I’m going to turn a 180 here (and not 360 like Emmitt Smith once said). I think the Warriors have fight left in them. Draymond Green needs to do a little mirror check and find the eye of the tiger again. He was like bully who got punched in the mouth and didn’t know what to do in game four. It’s time to show out. Steph Curry also needs to stop being so passive. I get that the Thunder are making things hard for him. Whether it’s fighting harder through screens, deciding to create for others, or taking a step or two back to give him room, he has to do it. He has no other choice. Don’t accept what they’re giving you. Create and take it.

It might not take much for the Warriors to get their swagger back. But it starts with those two guys.

As for the Thunder, they are on the precipice of realizing their basketball destiny. But in order to do it, they have to slam the door shut. They can’t give the Warriors any daylight. The Warriors have won 82 games this season for a reason.

Like Omar said, “You come at the king, you best not miss.” If the Thunder let the Warriors creep back in this series, the defending champions may continue creating history.

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