Thanks to the East, America needs Warriors-Thunder best-of-13


Thanks to the East, America needs Warriors-Thunder best-of-13

Finally, the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder provided a game that more completely explains why there should be two more of them.

Not because of the identity of the victor, mind you. The Warriors extended the Western Conference Final with a sweatbox-quality 120-111 win over the Thunder in Game 5, forcing a trip back to the Midwest. No, we speak of more of its quality, and the way it more accurately reflected the strengths, weaknesses, quirks and hidden face cards of these two teams.

Kevin Durant was brilliant. Stephen Curry was healed. Russell Westbrook was deliciously erratic and indomitable in the best Iversonian tradition. Andrew Bogut rose from the morgue to play perhaps his best important game since those in the Denver series two years ago, and Stephen Adams struggled as a result. There was give and take, yin and yang, hoi and polloi and a wonderful sense of balance between two teams that would do this mostly sub-mediocre postseason an enormous solid by having the NBA declare it a best of 13-series. 

[POOLE: Instant Replay: Warriors strike back, force Game 6 vs Thunder]

That is, if you are willing to upset the delicate equation of the desperate favorite and the imperious underdog. Golden State rose in nine-deep unison to cut a third of its daunting game deficit, but now they go to their own personal house of horrors to prove that they still have what they lost after Game 2.

While it is true that the Thunder would prefer one more bloodless mop job Saturday, and while it is equally so that until Thursday night that it would have been the right and just result, the fact is that America needs Golden State to prevail again in Game 6, and in much the same fashion as it did in Game 5, for one simple and indisputable reason, namely: 

You are not going to get any more entertainment out of the dust-dry and drama-deficient Eastern Conference Final. Trust us on that. Cavs-Raptors has had all the incandescence of a black shroud on a stable floor, and Game 6 is almost sure to be another tribute to post-modern tedium.

On the other hand, this series finally achieved its true promise, because it frankly had to do so. 

“I liked our will, I liked our fight,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We were embarrassed in Oklahoma City, and we fought hard tonight.”

They had to do the first because they had done the second –- twice. This series was in the process of being a massive buzzkill when three things happened.

1.        The Thunder did not blow the Warriors out of their own building in the first five minutes as they had Chesapeake Energy Center.

2.        Bogut was present to the point of near-omnipresence.

3.        The Warrior depth finally revealed itself at the cost of the not Durant-Westbrookian Thunder.

Bogut, frankly, served as the messenger for all the rest of it. His 15-point, 14-rebound, three-foul, 29-minute performance changed the entire game dynamic. He negated the force of Adams, he helped the Warriors fight the Thunder even in rebounds and induced them to shoot a paltry 40.5 percent (15-of-37) inside the paint that they had owned so tight-fistedly in the previous games of this series.

But his work also made it possible for the other members of the side to excel as well. Draymond Green (11/13/four blocks and a Ken Mauer technical foul) mattered, Andre Iguodala (eight points, eight assists in 34 quality minutes) mattered, Shaun Livingston (14 smooth minutes in relief of Curry) mattered, Marreese Speights (14 on seven shots in eight minutes) mattered.

And Curry made 70 percent of Curry look a lot more like, in Kerr’s words, “91 percent.” His 31 points on 20 shots were efficient enough, but his seven rebounds, six assists and five steals made him the best player on the floor, better even than Durant, who took charge of the stagnant Oklahoma City offense for 40 points on 31 shots, or Westbrook (31 on 28).

Adams was fully neutralized, Andre Roberson, Serge Ibaka and Dion Waiters had little impact upon the game, and the only other meaningful offering came from former Warrior Anthony Morrow, who had barely cast a shadow in Games 1 through 4.

In sum, the Thunder had shown its full versatility, discipline and aggression in Games 3 and 4, and the Warriors looked fully Warriorish in Game 5. While it is unlikely that we can see both teams at their best at the same time, because part of what makes them great is their mutual abilities to take from each other, it is still worth the try.

“It’s a series right now,” Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan said, somewhat ruefully. “Now we have to travel back, try to continually evolve and get better from this, and get ready to play Game 6.”

Simplistic, true, and we are choosing to omit the fact that the Warriors won one important statistic –- free throws. Golden State hit 31 of 34 to Oklahoma City’s 20 of 24, and while that fact irked Donovan enough to get his own technical, it spoke to Golden State’s willingness to attack the basket smartly and persistently -– just as Games 3 and 4 showed how well the Thunder did the very same thing.

“It’s a series right now” is not yet fully accurate, let’s be honest. Oklahoma City still has a clear leg up and is heading back home, but “it’s a series right now” gives us all the best hope for will make this a truly memorable series for the greatest number of basketball fans . . . a Game 7 between the two most dynamic teams left standing, with both teams fully pot-committed by the realization that margins for error are for cowards, and that mutual desperation makes for the best show, no matter who wins.

If that’s not good enough for you, just go ahead and hate basketball over in the corner where nobody else is. You won’t be missed that much, and the rest of us will be grateful for the extra leg and elbow room.

NBA Draft 2020: Deni Avdija celebrated Warriors' 2015 title in old photo

NBA Draft 2020: Deni Avdija celebrated Warriors' 2015 title in old photo

If the Warriors select 19-year-old Deni Avdija in the early stages of the 2020 NBA Draft, they'll be picking a player who appears to have been a fan of the franchise for at least a quarter of his life.

The Israeli-Serbian forward has been lighting up the Israeli Basketball Premier League for Maccabi Tel Aviv, averaging 18.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. ESPN's NBA draft guru Mike Schmitz describes Avdija as an "aggressive offensive player who is in attack mode every time he steps onto the floor," who, "loves shooting pull-up 3-pointers in transition."

Hmmm. Sound familiar?

That would seem to mirror the way the Warriors played throughout their (still ongoing?) dynastic run. Given a photo posted to Avdija's Instagram in September of 2016, it would appear he has been a fan of Golden State for some time.

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מה זה בית ספר #🇪🇸

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That's the Warriors 2015 NBA Champions hat that Avdija is wearing while apparently sailing off the coast of Spain. A good-looking hat for an even better view.

[RELATED: Watch potential Dubs draft target Avdija dominate in Israel]

Just throwing this out there, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess he's a pretty big fan of Steph Curry, too.

Maybe, just maybe, they'll be teammates within a few months, and Avdija will have more Warriors apparel than he'll know what to do with.

Shaq gives outrageous breakdown of potential Lakers-Warriors matchup

Shaq gives outrageous breakdown of potential Lakers-Warriors matchup

Shaquille O'Neal won't back down from this debate.

The Hall of Fame center is 100 percent convinced his three-peat Los Angeles Lakers were better than the Steph Curry and Kevin Durant-led Warriors.

Shaq has made it clear over the last two years that he believes the 1999 through 2002 championship Lakers would have easily beaten the 2016 through 2019 Warriors in a hypothetical matchup.

The Diesel even claimed that the Warriors wouldn't have been a contender during the Lakers' dominant run.

But in an interview with Maxim Magazine published Tuesday, Shaq said the Lakers starters would have won every 1-on-1 matchup with the Warriors.

Brace yourselves, Warriors fans.

"I have a hard time believing that the greatest coach of all time (Phil Jackson), plus me and Kobe [Bryant], wouldn’t match up quite nicely against Steve Kerr and his gang," Shaq said. "Kobe takes Steph and dominates him. [Derek] Fisher takes Klay and manhandles him. [Rick] Fox takes Draymond and makes him foul out in the first half. Horace [Grant] would do his thing with K.D. But let’s be real, K.D., is a beast, and you can only do so much with him. And then I’d remind [Zaza] Pachulia why I am in the Hall of Fame and he is not."

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Where do we even begin?

Yes, Kobe was an elite defender, but Curry is a generational talent. He would not have been dominated by Bryant. Steph against a prime Kobe would have been must-see TV, but it wouldn't have been as one-sided as Shaq believes.

If Shaq thinks Klay would be manhandled by anyone, let alone Fisher, he hasn't watched the Warriors shooting guard enough. Thompson has five inches on Fisher and would just shoot right over him.

If Fox tried to bully Draymond, the Warriors forward would pull a Doug Christie and sock him in the jaw. Draymond's motor would give him the edge in that matchup.

Durant would get his against Grant or any other defender the Lakers threw at him. You know who he is. He's Kevin Durant.

The only matchup the Lakers win hands down is Shaq vs. Zaza. Sorry, Zaza.

Shaq's Lakers were able to do something the Warriors weren't able to do: Three-peat. But Golden State very likely would have accomplished the feat if Durant and Thompson had been healthy for the entirety of the 2019 NBA Finals.

[RELATED: Why Curry, Dubs would dominate Lakers]

Yes, Shaq has every right to defend his Lakers teams, but to say they would completely dominate those Warriors teams is a bit far-fetched. Before Durant arrived, the Warriors won 73 games. After he signed, they steamrolled the league on their way to back-to-back NBA titles, and could have three-peated.

This debate will never be settled, but one thing is for sure. Shaq won't let it go.