Can Anyone Defend the Oklahoma City Thunder?
The Oklahoma City Thunder's decisive 116-97 win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday not only moved Kevin Durant and Co. to within a half-game of the San Antonio Spurs for the No. 1 spot out West, it also displayed the kind of unstoppable athleticism that could make OKC unbeatable in the postseason.
Durant totally dominated the game, using his superior size and skill to easily get any shot he wanted against a number of overmatched Warriors defenders. On the night, he finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists on a ridiculously efficient 10-of-16 from the floor.
He wasn't alone in his excellence, though. Serge Ibaka ate David Lee alive and Russell Westbrook flew all over the floor as if he had a jet pack concealed beneath his jersey.
One particular play exemplified OKC's collective athletic superiority better than any other:
To be fair, the Warriors are hardly known for their defense. Any doubt about that should quickly dissipate when watching the above clip. Nobody stops Durant, Lee makes a halfhearted swipe at the ball to make it look like he's trying (one of his specialties) and rookie Festus Ezeli doesn't even seem to know he's about to be dunked on.
Still, the play begins and ends with remarkable feats by Thunder players.
The question is: Can anybody in the West keep up?
Well, statistically speaking, the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies are the only playoff teams in the Western Conference who have come close this season. Both of those clubs have held OKC to offensive efficiency ratings of around 103 points per 100 possessions.
As a result, Memphis has notched two wins in three tries against the Thunder, while the Spurs have split their four meetings with OKC.
Whether those figures can hold up over a seven-game series is another question, though. With more youth and stamina than their opponents, it stands to reason that the Thunder would be able to wear down almost any opponent with their relentless attack.
Memphis' bruising defense and deliberate pace have been successful in individual matchups, but beating OKC four times in seven tries is another story. To do it, the Grizzlies will have to stay disciplined and hope that the Thunder don't force them to go small.
When that happens, Serge Ibaka starts to cause trouble.
OKC's shot-blocking big man destroyed the Warriors with ruthless efficiency. In 28 minutes, he scored 17 points, grabbed seven boards and blocked three shots while shooting 7-of-11 from the field. He even made both of his free throws and knocked down a triple.
Oh, and of course he generated a jaw-dropping highlight when he met the much bigger Andrew Bogut at the rim, denying the Aussie center a dunk.
A quick scan through the rest of the Thunder's potential Western Conference playoff foes reveals that the outcome of most series against OKC will look a lot like what Ibaka did to Bogut on that last play—meaning Oklahoma City's superior athleticism will leave opponents feeling rejected.
If the Thunder meet either the L.A Clippers or the L.A. Lakers in a potential second-round series, it won't be much of a contest. OKC has posted offensive ratings of at least 114 points per 100 possessions against both clubs from Los Angeles, en route to a combined 6-1 record.
The Houston Rockets won't be much of a threat, either. James Harden and Co. might like to play fast, but nobody has the thoroughbreds OKC does. An up-and-down pace might be the quickest way to a series defeat. Knowing that, it's not surprising that the Thunder have blown the Rockets out in two of the teams' three meetings this season.
And we now have a pretty good idea of how a series with the Warriors would turn out, too.
Ultimately, the Thunder have the ability to go over, around or through just about any Western Conference opponent. And even if a team like the Grizzlies tries to turn a series into a knock-down, drag-out slugfest for a game or two, it's going to be awfully hard to keep the Thunder from getting loose eventually.
With the postseason just a few days away, it doesn't look like anyone can stop the Thunder.
*All stats via NBA.com
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