The first star-studded meeting between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder takes place on Wednesday night in Oklahoma City in what resembles an All-Star game more so than a regular-season affair. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN App.
Assuming Kevin Durant's sprained ankle is sturdy enough for him to play, the contest will feature seven combined players who made the All-Star team last season, in Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green for the Warriors and Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony for the Thunder. All but Green are averaging at least 20 points per game for their respective teams this season.
The Thunder have gone 109-63 against teams besides the Warriors since the start of the 2015-16 season. However, Golden State has outscored Oklahoma City by about 20 more points per 100 possessions than any other team during that time (excluding playoffs).
Stopping the Warriors' offensive machine likely won't be any easier on Wednesday. That's because the Thunder have struggled mightily to close out games this season and have an 0-8 record in games decided by eight points or fewer. They already have four losses in games in which they held a 15-point lead, most in the NBA. Oklahoma City was 28-4 in such games last season.
The biggest issue for the Thunder so far this season is their play in clutch time. Opponents have outscored Oklahoma City 110-59 in the clutch this season. The Thunder have allowed 147.7 points per 100 possessions in that span, on pace to be by far the worst by any team in the last 20 seasons.
Despite the awful defense in the clutch, the Thunder still rank third in the NBA in overall defensive efficiency (99.2). That's a huge improvement from last season, but it gets worse as the game goes along.
Electrifying offense from the Warriors
Somehow, the Warriors' offense has been better than ever this season. Golden State currently leads the NBA in offensive efficiency by averaging 115.8 points per 100 possessions. That is actually more than two points better than last season. In fact, the Warriors have gotten better on offense in every season under head coach Steve Kerr.
The Warriors are again dominating the league in fast-break scoring, averaging 24.5 points per game in the open court, which is more than nine points better than the second-place Denver Nuggets (15.3).
They also set the standard for scoring off the screen. Thompson leads the NBA with 5.6 points per game off screens and Curry is second at 5.0. For the season, Golden State has scored 239 points directly off the screen. The next-closest team is the Washington Wizards with 168.
Matchup of past two MVPs
While the game is possibly another reunion for Durant in Oklahoma City, it's actually the Westbrook matchup with Curry that has produced more fireworks over the years. The two points guards, who have taken home the last three MVP awards, have split their prior 26 meetings and are averaging similar numbers against one another.
Issues with OKC's Big 3?
Although Westbrook, Anthony and George are just three of 16 players this season to average at least 20 points and five rebounds per game, there isn’t a lot of passing when the game is on the line. The Thunder's assist rate of 27 percent in clutch time is tied for the second-worst in the NBA.
Westbrook (39 percent) and Anthony (42 percent) are each shooting career-worsts from the field and the former has seen his scoring drop over 11 points from last season, the largest decrease in the NBA.
However, it's difficult to say that the experiment with Westbrook, Anthony and George has failed despite the Thunder's losing record. That's because Oklahoma City has outscored opponents by 66 points when those three players share the court, and lineups featuring that trio boast an offensive efficiency of 108.7 points per 100 possessions, which is fourth-best in the NBA (for a team).