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Biggest takeaway from Tuesday night’s Thunder-Warriors Round 2?
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David Aldridge: Paul George is a problem — a major one — for the Warriors. Over seven games, Warriors coach Steve Kerr may find a lineup that works against the Thunder, but for now, he doesn’t have any answer for PG13. Golden State’s whole Raison d’etre is fluid ball movement leading to soul-sapping 3-pointers and dunks. George wrecked that all by himself, as he’s done throughout the season in a formidable Kia Defensive Player of the Year campaign. On the ball, off the ball, helping, recovering — George seemed to be everywhere wreaking defensive havoc, while scoring, somehow, a quiet 38. George and Steven Adams are just a devastating halfcourt duo defensively. I’m by no means saying the Thunder will definitely beat the Warriors in the playoffs. But the template is there. (Which, he notes parenthetically, is not good news for the Los Angeles Lakers or LA Clippers.)
Steve Aschburner: Good for the Thunder, ho-hum for the Warriors. OKC needed to stop its Oakland losing streak, end a four-game skid and feel better about itself since losing defensive-minded guard Andre Roberson. This one hardly proved the Thunder are back to their old stingy selves, though the third quarter was a start. For Golden State, I’m assuming it’s more of a teachable moment that coach Steve Kerr and his staff craved to get their guys’ attention. Might not have it in undivided form till after the All-Star break, at which point this type of performance will become more concerning.
Tas Melas: Draymond Green is beginning to earn himself reputation techs. As patient as the referees have been with Green, it may have reached a tipping point. That second tech when he gently lobbed the ball at the ref was clearly a: “We’ve had enough and will whistle you on any semblance of breaking the rules.” He has to be aware of this fact in playoffs Round 2, or 3, or 4
Shaun Powell: The harmony between Russell Westbrook and Paul George is championship-contender quality. They play well off each other and it shows almost nightly; this is the chemistry that could convince George to stay in OKC, although the rest of the club isn’t so deep or talented or intriguing. Also, the Warriors (and especially Draymond Green) really need to get a grip on their behavior towards referees. But you knew that.
John Schuhmann: Turnovers were probably the bigger issue on Tuesday, but on a more macro scale, it’s noteworthy that the Warriors’ defense has lost its edge. They certainly aren’t where the Cavs are, but the champs rank 26th defensively since late December, with their biggest issues being 3-point defense (29th over that stretch) and forcing turnovers (28th). This is a team that, despite all its talent, has never just relied on its historically efficient offense to get by and never had to find “the switch,” because they’ve built good defensive habits from Day 1 of training camp. On Tuesday, they let the Paul George and Russell Westbrook walk into a lot of comfortable jumpers and build a rhythm early. It’s probably just an energy issue that will resolve itself after the All-Star break (and it wouldn’t be the first time were we’ve seen defensive slippage from a team that has gone to The Finals each of the last three years), but this is the Warriors’ worst defensive stretch in their four seasons under Steve Kerr and it has allowed the Houston Rockets to climb into a tie in the loss column for the No. 1 seed in the West (with Houston holding the tiebreaker).
Sekou Smith: The Thunder remain the true wild card for me in the entire playoff field. For all of the issues they have had and continue to deal with, they’ve shown themselves more than capable against the Western Conference’s top two teams. They can grind away at both the Warriors and Houston Rockets in ways that no other team in the league can. Russell Westbrook and Paul George lead the way and Steven Adams and the rest of that long, athletic (and much-improved from earlier in the season) supporting cast following along. You watch these regular season statement games to see if there are any clues as to what could translate into a potential postseason matchup. The Warriors (and Rockets) should absolutely take this Thunder team as a serious threat. And once again, the Warriors can get away with playing fast and loose with the ball against a huge chunk of the league. But turnovers and losing your composure against a team like the Thunder — a team that has your picture up on the dart board every day — is a recipe for disaster.