By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Can the Oklahoma City Thunder possibly go up 2-0 in their Western Conference Finals series against the team that same say is the greatest in NBA history?
And can they get that done on the road? Inside an arena where the Golden State Warriors lost just twice all season and never in consecutive games?
Well one thing the Thunder have going for them, the players and head coach Billy Donovan say they can play better than they did in Monday night’s 108-102 win.
“I certainly think we can play better,” Donovan told reporters after his team’s practice session at the University of San Francisco.
“Besides the shooting percentage part and I thought Kevin (Durant) and Russell (Westebrook) had some good looks and so did some other guys on our team and I’m sure they can say the same. But I do think there are things we can do better.”
Controlling turnovers for one thing. The Thunder were terrible at that in the first half Monday with 10 give-aways but in the second half they took much better care of the ball, turning it over just twice.
“Taking care of the basketball puts us in position to obviously get more shots at the basket,” said Westbrook, “and more opportunities to attack the basket instead of just giving them the ball. That’s what they’re good at get out in transition, hit threes, they’re really difficult to guard that way.”
The Thunder have had problems with their transition defense all season, it’s generally been better in the playoffs but any mistakes in that area against the Warriors can have much more serious consequences because of Golden State’s tendency to be able to turn turnovers into three points.
“I thought there were some times in transition where we could have done a better job of getting back and maybe eliminating or taking away some of those easier baskets that they got,” Donovan admitted. “So I think there’s things that we need to do better.”
Donovan said there was no great strategy change made at halftime to cut down on those Thunder give backs.
“You know you go in at halftime, you address it, you talk about it and you explain that we’re missing out on opportunities to score points and it’s also putting them on the fast break. And so I thought they went out in the second half and tried to concentrate on doing a better job and I think that’s just a real compliment to this group.”
Of course the Warriors, who haven’t lost two straight games anywhere this season, much less at home, say they can be better too.
“We made a fair share of mistakes that we can clean up,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said but also complimented the Thunder for their part in forcing some of those miscues.
“I thought they played awfully well in the second half and they deserve a lot of credit. But we know the areas where we need to improve and are going to have to improve.”
The Warriors aren’t exactly going to have to go back to the drawing board but they may have to change they way they approach the Thunder.
Golden State forward Draymond Green told ESPN’s Tim McMahon the Thunder are “a completely different team” from the one the Warriors swept in the regular season.
“KD didn’t play well (Monday night) to KD’s standards. Russ didn’t play well to Russ’ standards and yet they won the game.”
The Thunder superstar duo shot a combined 17-for-51 (33.3 percent) in Game 1 but Steven Adams scored 16 points on 4-for-6 shooting, Andre Roberson was 3-for-3, Dion Waiters was 4-for-6.
The Thunder bench outscored the Warriors bench 21-18.
“Their other guys are playing better,” Green said.
“We’ll have some answers,” Kerr promised. “We’ll look at the tape again as a staff and think more about combinations and that kinda stuff, but nothing out of the ordinary.”
You can bet Billy D and his staff have looked at the tape too and are anticipating what the Warriors might do and coming up with plans to counter.
One thing the Thunder won’t do is relax and be comfortable sitting on that Game 1 win.
“Don’t relax man, we haven’t won nothin’,” Westbrook said when asked about the Thunder’s mood and then he repeated a phrase he’s used before.
“Happy teams get beat, you get happy you get beat, so we can’t relax.”