The Golden State Warriors don't want to talk about it, because why tempt fate? Also, it's somewhat unwise to discuss your role in an opposing player's poor shooting. Predictably, coach Steve Kerr falls back on his go-to quote about past success: "It doesn't matter now."
Kerr can say that, but it's hard to ignore an emerging trend involving Russell Westbrook. It matters so long as it's replicable and increasingly, it's looking replicable.
In his eight games against the Kerr-era Warriors, Westbrook has made 61 of 180 field goal attempts (34 percent). That's an ugly stat but not an entirely fair one -- he's affected the games in other ways, especially in the Oklahoma City Thunder's two victories over those eight games. In the third quarter of Game 1, for instance, he saved OKC with a relentless, memorable effort.
Still, this is a trend Westbrook must reverse for the Thunder to ultimately win this series. Much has been made of Durant's success against Golden State and less has been made of why that success hasn't led to more wins in the matchup. The answer to why the Warriors have mostly gotten the better of this matchup has a lot to do with Westbrook missing copious amounts of shots.
Perhaps Sunday night's Game 3 in Oklahoma City will be the stage for Westbrook to finally break out against Golden State. If it happens, it will be a welcome, necessary development for the Thunder. In the meantime, the Warriors have many reasons to trust their current formula for containing one of basketball's most explosive talents.
With Roberson in, Curry has insurance
Here's what Westbrook starts against. Stephen Curry guards him, as the back line of Golden State's defense gets a boost by attention diverted away from shaky-shooting Andre Roberson. Draymond Green mostly ignores Roberson and acts as a free safety, as Andrew Bogut treats Steven Adams similarly (in Game 2, roles were reversed, with Bogut roving off Roberson).
Further complicating matters, Klay Thompson guards Serge Ibaka, knowing full well Ibaka lacks the post moves to punish shorter defenders or the ball skills to punish a closeout. Thompson isn't far from the paint, helping liberally off Ibaka, who's struggled a bit with his 3-point stroke this season. Curry will mostly go under screens for Westbrook and if he gets stuck, Green is happy to take up assignment. And of course, Bogut is ready to leap in and protect the paint should Westbrook get all the way to the rack. In short, this is a nightmare lineup to drive against.
Using Draymond as a rover is a newer development for Golden State. In the regular season, they'd have Curry sagging as much as 20 feet off Roberson instead. This playoff look is likely even more difficult to navigate, though Westbrook does his best to attack with blunt force. So far, with Curry as his primary defender, Westbrook is 4-of-11 with 12 points in the series.
With Waiters in, Klay slides to Russ
Life doesn't necessarily get easier when Roberson subs out for Waiters. Curry shifts to guard Waiters, and the Westbrook assignment becomes Thompson's. In recent history, it's an assignment he's excelled at. The last time the Warriors were in Oklahoma City, Curry's 37-foot game winner defined the visit. It's a play that needed Thompson's defense on Westbrook as a preamble. On the play before the game-winner, Thompson did a fantastic job getting his chest into Westbrook, not biting on fakes, and forcing an errant bank shot.
Thompson has been a jumpy defender in the past, but he may have rid himself of those habits because of a grueling education in guarding James Harden in last season's playoffs. Against the similarly twitchy Westbrook, Thompson has been implacably stout. In five games against the Warriors this season plus postseason, when guarded by Thompson as a primary defender, Westbrook has shot a miserable 8-of-32 for 26 points.
When KD is out, Andre is on Russ watch
When Durant gets a breather, Golden State's best perimeter defender becomes Westbrook's problem. Andre Iguodala is more athletic and more disciplined than Thompson, generally speaking. Iguodala might be better suited to guarding Durant, and Thompson might be better at guarding Westbrook specifically, but it's an incredible luxury to let Iguodala get a few cracks at Westbrook when Thompson rests.
If a problem comes along, you must switch it
This is especially true when Green is involved in the pick-and-roll. Not only does Green provide necessary rim protection, but he's adept at switching the pick-and-roll when Westbrook's man gets stuck. In other instances, Green is adept at merely showing until Westbrook's defender gets back in the picture.
While Westbrook possesses a burst that can blow past Green, it's a move he has to set up. In general, the more Oklahoma City's offense pauses for Westbrook to set up moves in the half court, the better things are for Golden State.
Of course, none of this, none of it at all, works without attentive defense to Westbrook in transition. Westbrook won't have to grind out difficult half-court possessions against Thompson if the Warriors fail to pick him up early. Golden State has suffered a few lapses that led to one-man fast breaks, but they've largely done well.
It's not an easy task in the slightest. Westbrook excels at escaping cramped spaces like Houdini -- if only the famed magician detonated his constraints with a forceful flex of muscle. Westbrook is being dealt with beautifully by the Warriors, but he remains a problem who demands constant attention. So far, in regard to the NBA's most athletic point guard, the Warriors have been better than vigilant.