Upset in Sight, OKC Must Overcome Warriors Team Embracing Underdog Role

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterMay 28, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second half in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
J Pat Carter/Getty Images

OKLAHOMA CITY — We almost always know which team is going to win a playoff series.

Regular-season performance, home-court advantage, injured players, number of star players…it is a performance-driven but evidence-based process.

So as competitive as the individual games can be, there is a limit to the unpredictability of the end game in a series.

The Western Conference Finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors, though?

Wonderfully unpredictable. So different from the norm. Both teams worthy of full respect and belief.

When a series comes along in which we truly don't know who is going to win—and even better, when we waffle on which team is actually the better team—it's like basketball heaven.

As we reach Game 6 Saturday night in this series, we think we know the Thunder are positioned to win this thing. We think the Thunder, especially after another solid outing in their Game 5 loss Thursday night in Oakland, have flipped the script to be the better team. We think the Thunder will win because less than four percent of NBA teams have lost series after holding 3-1 leads.

Then again…

These are the Warriors. 

They won those 73 that no one did before. They are defending champs. Their roster isn't missing anyone because of injury. Stephen Curry is still the miracle worker whose radar-homing missile launches somehow add peace to our world.

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26:  Andrew Bogut #12 of the Golden State Warriors shoots the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on May 26, 2016 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

And if there were ever a team that could seize an unexpected victory by sheer unstoppable three-point barrage—the stock way any NCAA tournament underdog can get hot and win on a given day—it would be the sweet-shooting Warriors.

The Warriors are embracing the newfound underdog role.

"House money," said Golden State center Andrew Bogut, who steadied his team repeatedly in Game 5. "No one expects us to do it."

That's how dramatically the upstart Thunder have changed the mighty Warriors in the eyes of the world and even in their own locker room.

Sure, there was Draymond Green's perpetually hoarse voice still dominating the clamor of the Warriors' postgame inner sanctum Thursday night. The golden-yellow confetti that fell from the rafters felt familiar for a team that has won so much.

But the aura of Golden State's Game 5 victory was assuredly different. The 13-point lead midway through the fourth quarter had neither players nor fans taking success for granted, and despite fatigue, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant met every expectation upon them in their unrelenting pushes to rally thereafter.

The mystique of the Warriors has been erased. The Thunder believe they are the better team. It is obvious by now they have no fear of their opponent or this situation, and they might well have more drive.

"Our mentality this whole series: 'Forget about the last game,'" OKC center Steven Adams said.

May 24, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan speaks to his team during a timeout from action against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter in game four of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playo
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Every game, the Thunder go in with a clear head about accomplishing a simple goal: to win. The game plan might be tweaked to have a little more Andre Roberson or a little less Enes Kanter, but the directed feeling remains the same.

The Warriors have been the ones scrambling, on the court and in their heads.

The same goes for Game 6. The Thunder will just do what they do. It's on the Warriors to figure out how to keep Curry fresh given how hard it has been for him to play his game against a Thunder defense daring him to score from inside instead of the easy way out.

Curry most definitely understands by now what he has to do, and he even knows how to do it: Be aggressive the whole game and get his threes out of team ball movement, creating switching confusion…but be judicious about attempts to take over individually.

Curry has failed repeatedly in this series to jerk momentum to Golden State's side at pivotal moments in the games in Oklahoma City.

"We have to control that situation," Curry said.

The Warriors have to reach a new level of control while also maintaining their old level of joy.

"We played like we were really stressed in OKC, and it showed," Curry said. "[Now we have to] kind of let loose, be ourselves, have fun. Enjoy what we're doing."

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26:  Stephen Curry #30 and the bench of the Golden State Warriors react to a score against the Oklahoma City Thunder during Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2016 in Oaklan
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

See how this is? The Thunder are anchored, and the Warriors are trying to angle their way past them. The Thunder have control, and the Warriors have to take it from them.

The Warriors are the underdog. They are a 73-victory, defending-champion underdog.

And they have to do what the underdog does in NBA playoff series: level up, level up, level up until you most refreshingly find yourself beyond the level of the better team.

Golden State has a Game 7 back home and their support system there waiting. The Warriors still can steal this series from the better team.

It can happen. It just rarely has in NBA playoff history.

Then again, this series has been unlike usual NBA playoff history.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.


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