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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pivotal Game 2

The Oklahoma City Thunder stunned the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors by unexpectedly ripping away Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at Golden State. Notwithstanding an egregious non-call following an obvious travel by Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (24 PPG, 10 APG, 8 RPG) in the final minute of what was still a single-possession game, the Thunder outplayed, outcoached, out manned, and out physicaled the Warriors in the second half of Game 1.

Many observers expected the Conference Finals to be trip down a short cobblestone road on the way to a like showdown and rematch with the 2015 runner-ups, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The road would not necessarily be smooth, but nonetheless quickly and successfully traveled. The Thunder dispelled the certainty of such a mindset on Monday night.

The cliché about a playoff series not starting until the road team wins (or Game 7 – whichever comes first) became a cliché for a reason. It is more difficult to win away from home in any organized competitive sport at any level; it is not easy to win on the road against any opponent in any professional sport, and it is difficult to win on the road in a professional sport in a playoff series.  This axiom is especially true against a quality opponent and even more so in basketball, a sport in which the crowd is close to the action, loud, and the depth perception of home team, when shooting, need not adjust to an unfamiliar arena.

This series “started” (so-to-speak) after Game 1. Golden State will have to prevail at least once at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City to defend its crown. While the Warriors, with an NBA regular season record-breaking 73 wins in the 2016 season, are as talented and offensively potent as any team in the Association to ever defend a championship in the, the task of taking a Conference Finals game on the road while running the table at home will not be a proverbial slam-dunk. A loss by the Warriors at home tonight in Game 2 will change Golden State’s mission from “not a slam dunk”, to “a steep uphill climb”.

Simply put, the “pivotal” distinction normally reserved for Game 5 of a best-of-seven playoff series applies early, in Game 2, of the 2016 Western Conference NBA Finals. The team that wins tonight is likely going to win the series. Will the Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Warriors make a Splash or be Thunder-struck?

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