Get ready for what should be an offensive NBA betting showcase in the Western Conference Finals as Golden State and Oklahoma City face off starting Monday in Oakland.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Golden State Warriors
How They Got Here
West top seed Golden State was a heavy favorite in the conference semifinals against Portland -- which probably wouldn't have advanced there without the Los Angeles Clippers suffering two major injuries -- and did win in five games. Steph Curry missed the first three of those with a knee injury. I think it's fair to say that the regular-season record-setting Warriors were pushed harder than many thought they would be. Golden State led for a total of just 47 minutes in the final four games. Truly, the Blazers could have won every game but the first one. If you are wondering for a point of comparison, the 1995-96 Bulls, the team that had held the record of 72 regular-season wins, lost a total of three playoff games that year and had two sweeps. The Warriors are at two losses.
The Warriors surely were hoping for Thunder-Spurs to go seven games as then the Western Conference Finals would have started Wednesday in Oakland. Thus Curry would have had a few extra days to rest that knee. Plus both Andrew Bogut (right abductor strain) and Draymond Green (sprained ankle) suffered injuries in the clinching Game 5 vs. the Blazers. I highly doubt either misses Monday's Game 1. But those injuries are worth monitoring going forward.
No. 3 Oklahoma City wasn't supposed to beat No. 2 San Antonio in the other conference semifinals, especially after losing Game 1 by 32 points and then dropping Game 3 at home to fall behind 2-1. All the Spurs had to do was not lose a home game the rest of the series and they were 40-1 there during the regular season. But the Thunder won the next three games, and Thursday's clinching 113-99 Game 6 victory was really never in doubt after halftime. It was truly a stunning turnaround. But put simply: Oklahoma City's two best players, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, were far better than San Antonio's two best players, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Series Story Lines
Where to begin? As I noted, this should series resemble a 1980s one -- way before handchecking was disallowed -- between the "Showtime" Lakers and Boston Celtics. And by that I mean: expect plenty of scoring. Golden State led the NBA in scoring during the regular season at 114.9 points per game, was No. 1 in offensive efficiency at 112.5 points per 100 possessions and first in shooting at 48.7 percent. The Warriors have the NBA scoring champion and two-time league MVP in Steph Curry (first-ever unanimous MVP this season) and maybe the league's best offensive backcourt ever in Curry and fellow sharpshooter Klay Thompson.
If the Warriors are able to repeat as champions after winning those record 73 games in the regular season, they have to be on the very short list of the best teams of all-time. They are -185 favorites on NBA odds to win the title.
Oklahoma City ranked second in the NBA during the season in scoring at 110.2 points per game, No. 2 in offensive efficiency at 109.9 points per 100 possessions and third in field-goal percentage at 47.6 percent. The Thunder have two of the NBA's five best players in former NBA MVP and four-time scoring champion Durant and Westbrook. It's the fourth time in the past six years that OKC is in the conference finals. It is 1-2 in the previous two trips. OKC (since moving there) and Golden State have never met in the playoffs. The Thunder are +600 on NBA picks to win the NBA title.
As an aside, I actually believe that OKC's series win over San Antonio will be enough to keep free-agent-to-be Durant for at least one more season. Rumblings are that he will sign a one-year deal with an opt-out clause and thus tie his future to that of Westbrook's, a free agent after next season.
Season Series Recap
Golden State won all three meetings, but boy were they fun and the Thunder led all three in the fourth quarter -- OKC led the NBA with 15 losses during the season when leading at any point in the fourth quarter. But the Thunder seemed to remedy that problem against San Antonio.
On Feb. 6 in OKC, the Warriors won 116-108. Curry scored three baskets (finishing with 26 points) and assisted on two more in a closing 12-4 run. Durant had 40 points and 14 rebounds and Westbrook 27 points and 12 assists.
On Feb. 27 in OKC, the Warriors won 121-118 in OT. Curry had 46 points and tied an NBA record with 12 made 3-pointers. His last was the shot of the year: a 32-footer for the win. I remember watching that game and just thinking: "ridiculous." Curry had missed about six minutes of the third quarter with an ankle injury. Durant had 37 for OKC but fouled out early in OT.
And on March 3 in Oakland, the Warriors won 121-106. The Thunder did lead by one entering the fourth. Curry had 33 points, while Durant had 32 points but also nine turnovers.
The Warriors are -7.5 on NBA odds for Game 1 Monday with a total of 223 points.
Free NBA Picks: Do I think the Thunder can win this series? No question. Especially if Curry tweaks that knee or Green's ankle is a problem. But assuming good health for those two, I have to lean Warriors in seven games. I would take the points in Game 1, however. Just go 'over' in every game.