The NBA Western Conference Finals will have DC’s Superman and Batman suiting up for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Avengers donning Golden State Warriors’ uniforms. The Thunder beat the San Antonio Spurs with great play from their role players but in this round they’ll need their superheroes to get passed the Warriors. In the other corner, the Warriors’ ensemble of superhuman talent will face their toughest challenger yet.
Kevin Durant is Superman for the Thunder, with his calm demeanor while averaging 36.3 points in three games against the Warriors. Durant will face different defenders all series, the Warriors will put Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, and Klay Thompson on him as well as switch Draymond Green in pick-and-roll plays. In the examples below the Thunder used Steven Adams to set on-ball screens near half-court giving Durant plenty of space to attack Andrew Bogut. Superman smoothly glides to the rim and easily lays the ball in both instances.
Russell Westbrook is the other half of this duo as Batman. He plays with a raging fire inside him that at times propels him to great things or hurt the team. In the past series he dominated by crashing the boards and will need to continue to do so in this series. One thing the Thunder can take advantage of is his size advantage over Stephen Curry. Anytime they are matched up he must take him in the post like the example below, Batman overpowered Curry and finished in the paint.
Oklahoma City is the best rebounding team in the NBA and used that to take down the Spurs. The Thunder must create easy baskets by turning the Warriors’ misses into transition plays like the play below. The Thunder did a great job securing the rebound, made the outlet pass to Superman who teamed with Batman and violently attacks the rim.
The real question is if the Thunder’s best lineup of Enes Kanter and Adams in the last series can dominate the Warriors like they did the Spurs? It will be more challenging this time to keep this lineup on the floor if the bigs cannot defend the small ball pick-and-rolls.
The Thunder supporting cast has struggled most of the season but they stepped up in the last round with Waiters playing some of his best basketball in his career and Roberson playing lockdown defense against Kawhi Leonard. They will need to continue to play that way and step up to form the Justice League behind Superman and Batman.
In the other corner is Marvel’s Avengers with Curry as the clean cut Captain America, Green as the trash talking Iron Man, and Thompson as the silent assassin Hawkeye. These Warriors have made it through the first two rounds of the playoffs with their Captain banged up. It is with their strong supporting cast they have been able to withstand Curry’s injuries but they’ll need him to play like the unanimous MVP that he is during this series. The Captain is an absolute nightmare off of pick-and-rolls to guard. In the play below he came off an on-ball screen and took advantage of Kanter switching onto him. He blew right by him for an and-1 basket.
Besides having to be ready to defend Curry off of pick-and-roll situations, the Thunder have to have Curry awareness at all times even when he doesn’t have the ball. In the two plays below the Thunder lost that awareness and Westbrook didn’t stay attached to Curry who got a wide-open three in the first clip off of a set play. In the second clip Westbrook let up for just a moment, Curry slipped to the basket and Bogut founds him underneath the rim for two points.
The Warriors Iron Man is Draymond Green, often in the right place at the right time and is constantly letting anyone in an earshot know about it. Green is the heart of the Warriors, he is a key playmaker for them on the offensive side and is the engine that makes their small ball lineup their death lineup. Iron Man has averaged 12.3 rebounds and 9 assists against the Thunder this season. One extremely important stat is how many technicals Green already has in these playoffs. He already has four techs and it’s an automatic suspension once he hits seven. OKC players like Adams might try to bait him into one. He’ll have to keep his head because it would be a devastating blow for the Warriors to lose Iron Man for a game.
In Curry’s absence Thompson has been a long-range threat similar to Hawkeye in these playoffs. He is scoring 27.2 points per game these playoffs while shooting 47.5% from downtown. Much like Hawkeye, Thompson plays his game without much conversation. He often draws the tougher guard defensive assignment and in the regular season he often matched up on Westbrook. It will be his challenge to keep Westbrook out of the paint and try to goad him into jumpers.
Late in a game versus the Thunder, Iron Man teamed up with Hawkeye on two critical plays. In the first clip, Green grabbed an offensive rebound off of a Curry miss and slung the ball cross court to a wide-open Thompson who made the Thunder pay with a three ball. Then off of an end of game play, Green found Thompson again who is cutting off a back pick to tie the game with an and-1 and showed the most emotion you’ll see from him in a game.
This series has the makings of an instant classic with epic battles. Many questions will be answered like; can the Thunder bigs keep up with the small lineup of death for the Warriors? Can the Superman/Batman duo do enough to defeat the Avengers? Will Green or Westbrook’s tempers have an affect on the series? Can Captain America show yet again why he deserved to be the first unanimous MVP or will Superman remind everyone why he was the MVP just 2 years ago? These are just a few questions that will be answered in this series. This has the potential to be a great series and the birth of a new rivalry.