Warriors, Thunder expect another intense battle
(TSX / STATS) -- The last time Golden State paid Oklahoma City a visit, it was the biggest spectacle of the NBA season. With Kevin Durant making his first trip to Oklahoma City in a visitor's uniform, it spawned cupcake chants that rang throughout the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
But the one indelible image that came out of the Feb. 11 confrontation was Durant standing on one side of half-court going back and forth with his former teammate Russell Westbrook, who was yelling, "I'm coming. I'm coming."
It was the most exciting moment of what ended up being another blowout win by the Warriors over the Thunder. Golden State prevailed 130-114, improving to 3-0 for the season against Oklahoma City, with the average margin of victory 21 points.
However, when Oklahoma City (40-29) hosts Golden State (55-14) on Monday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, both teams will look drastically different than in their previous confrontations. But that hasn't changed the intensity of the contest.
"The most important thing is not worry about them," Thunder center Enes Kanter said. "Just worry about us. If we play our game, then we're going to be fine."
The Warriors will be without Durant, who torched his former team in each of their three wins. He is still recovering from a grade 2 MCL sprain and tibial bone bruise that has sidelined him since Feb. 28.
However, Durant will be in the building as he makes his first road trip since his surgery.
The Warriors picked up Matt Barnes to replace Durant. He has started to fit in to what the squad is doing as of late.
"He's not a great shooter but he's a guy who you have to honor if you're out there defending him," Warriors coach Steve Kerr told the Associated Press. "He doesn't have to make shots to be effective. He does everything else so well. He's already picked up our offense, like that. He's been a tremendous addition."
What hasn't changed is how dangerous Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are for the Warriors. They are the core that guided the Golden State back from a 3-1 deficit against Oklahoma City during last season's Western Conference finals. So the Thunder players and coaches know exactly what the Warriors are capable of, even without Durant.
"They are not much different," Thunder center Steven Adams said. "They still pose a threat. They are really unselfish with the ball."
Oklahoma City has also made wholesale changes since their Feb. 11 defeat. Almost two weeks later, the Thunder added Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott.
For a change when meeting the Warriors, Oklahoma City will be healthy. Kanter missed the last game with a fractured arm, while Adams sat out the game before with a concussion.
Having both bigs in the lineup along with Gibson could provide the Thunder with a physical advantage they will look to use.
"When you re-post, the defender is relaxing," Kanter said. "That's when the bigs should bury their defender. My teammates are doing a really good job of reading that."
But it is defense Oklahoma City will need to make sure is on a high level. Golden State is still the No. 1 scoring team in the league.
However, one of the least noticed elements of the Thunder during their recent win streak is the team's defensive improvement. Oklahoma City is holding teams to 99 points a game over the past five contests.
On the season, the Thunder have been one of the best in not allowing opponents to take 3-pointers. They are fourth in the NBA with 24.4 3-pointers attempted by opponents. However, during their current win streak, they brought those numbers down to 20.8.
Golden State takes 31 per game.
Oklahoma City have also cut down the amount assists they allow during games. They went from 21 to 16 over the past five contents.
"We've made strides in a positive direction," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "There are more to be made. The only thing you can do is come in here intentionally every single day and be committed and focused on how you want to play offensively and defensively and be committed to doing those things and not get to a place of complacency."
Updated March 20, 2017