Defending champion Warriors expect tough task from Thunder
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Stephen Curry’s near half-court shot to win it in overtime at Oklahoma City in late February became one of the defining moments in his record-shattering MVP season.
Now, with four more victories against Kevin Durant and the Thunder in the Western Conference finals, Curry and Co. will move one step closer to the Warriors’ ultimate goal: A repeat championship.
“It was a deep shot, and it was a huge shot - it was something I’ve never seen,” Durant recalled. “But it wasn’t like it was a shot that went across the whole world.”
No arguing Curry’s fame has gone global. He is fresh of becoming the NBA’s first unanimous MVP, but there’s more work to do.
Golden State was outrebounded 62-32 in that Feb. 27 win, and the Warriors can’t even believe they pulled off that one.
“I have no clue,” swingman Draymond Green said. “That’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. That’s not supposed to happen.”
Golden State won all three regular-season meetings with the Thunder on the way to its record 73-win season, but slowing down Russell Westbrook and Durant will be a chore after the Thunder beat San Antonio 4-2 in the Western Conference semifinals.
“They’re an explosive team. They’re clicking right now and found a good recipe to beat a tough Spurs team,” Curry said. “That says a lot about how they’re playing right now.”
The Warriors are optimistic Curry’s sprained right knee will stay healthy for the entire round when he best-of-seven series begins Monday night at Oracle Arena.
After being sidelined in the first round with an ankle injury and then missing the first three games against the Trail Blazers, Curry came off the bench and overcame a slow start to score 40 points in a 132-125 Game 4 overtime win at Portland on Monday night, including an NBA-record 17 in overtime. He then started and scored 29 points Wednesday night in the clincher at home.
“The last three years against them it’s been pretty entertaining games, most of the time going down to the wire, so you can only imagine what it will be like in the playoffs,” Curry said. “Every possession’s going to be key.”
Here are some things to watch for in the West finals:
BOGUT’S LEG: Golden State 7-foot-center Andrew Bogut returned to practice Sunday to test a strained muscle in his right leg between the hamstring and groin. The Warriors didn’t scrimmage, so Bogut was listed as questionable for Monday’s series opener. With no shootaround Monday, coach Steve Kerr said he would go through a strenuous warmup before the game to determine his status.
Meanwhile, Curry said Sunday his knee hasn’t improved much the past week and it will just be about “pain tolerance” and he expects to be able to handle his regular load and production.
THOMPSON’S D: First, Klay Thompson chased James Harden around for five games and held him in check. Then Damian Lillard for five more. And now he draws Westbrook in another daunting defensive assignment.
Yet Thompson spent Thursday’s day off at a dog park - so, yes, his legs are still plenty fresh, thank you.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Thompson said. “My energy on both offense and defense never really withered. I was locked in for five straight games. I shot the ball well. That helps. ... It’s nice to have home court. You’ve got to set yourself up mentally each series, you’ve got to reset. Guarding James and guarding Damian, and hopefully now up for the challenge of Westbrook and Durant, you’ve got to get your rest but mentally prepare yourself for no rest, really.”
CRASH THE BOARDS: The Thunder were the NBA’s top rebounding team, by a long shot. While sending Durant, center Steven Adams, power forward Serge Ibaka and others to the glass at every chance, Oklahoma City outrebounded opponents by 8.4 - twice that of any other team. Even Westbrook crashes the offensive boards as well as anybody from the point guard position.
“It’s a different type of series, we’re absolutely going to have to play better,” Kerr said. “This is a much bigger team. Rebounding will be key.”
That means the Golden State guards doing their part.
“We got outrebounded by like 30 in OKC and we won. I’ve never heard of a team doing that,” Curry said.
EXPERIENCED THUNDER: Oklahoma City is in the West finals for the fourth time in six years and lost to Miami for the 2012 title.
First-year coach Billy Donovan is trying to pull of the feat that Kerr did a year ago in his rookie season leading Golden State to its first championship in 40 years.
“We know exactly what we’re up against,” Kerr said. “They’ve been one of the best teams in the league for the last six-seven years. The reality is in this league all you can ask for is to give yourself a swing at the plate every year, and they’ve had a lot of swings and they’ve come really, really close.”
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: This series could be quite an offensive show for basketball fans.
“You’ve got amazing athletes, amazing scorers,” Thompson said. “You’ve got everything you want in a series.”
Durant shot 50 percent against the Spurs.
The Warriors have a long list of play-makers.
“They’re going to make demoralizing plays all the time,” Adams said.
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.