Photo provided by OKC Thunder
By Michael Kinney
One of my favorite movies of all time is “The Wild Bunch.” Directed by Sam Peckinpah, the 1969 semi-Western stared William Holden and Ernest Borgnine as members of a gang trying to fight and outrun the changing world at the turn of the century, and believed by their sheer will they could make it happen.
The “Wild Bunch” was called one of the most violent and bloody films of its time. While it was panned by critics when it was released, it has stood the test of time and changed the way movies were made.
What does any of that have to do with the upcoming Western Conference Championship that begins at 8 p.m. (TNT) tonight, Monday, May 16, in Oakland?
Well, much like the Wild Bunch, the Oklahoma City Thunder were dismissed when the season first began. All the love was going to Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland.
Because the Thunder had a rookie head coach, terrible defense and fourth quarter meltdowns, not much was expected of them despite their record.
But as the postseason has moved on, the Thunder have seemingly found their footing just in time to face the daunting task that is the Golden State Warriors in the conference championship.
“More experience is always the best teacher,” Kevin Durant said. “More guys are playing. You play two playoffs series and you learn a lot about yourselves. Guys are learning more and more, embracing their roles a little bit more. Knowing what type of intensity it is at this point in the season. Guys are just relaxed.”
For the past two seasons, Golden State has been the team on top of the mountain of that everyone has been trying to knock off. With their free flowing offense, 3-point loving shooters and big shot making players, they have remade the NBA in their image.
From the golden boy image of two-time MVP Steph Curry to desire ultimate team work of Draymond Green, the Warriors have been made out to be everything that is good about the NBA. The media and fans have have given the Warriors the white hat and anointed them the good guys.
Conversely, in this drama, the Thunder could be cast as the villains who showed up out of nowhere to take over and do things their own way. A flawed group that can be emotional, thin skinned and unpredictable. Essentially, the Wild Bunch.
But none of that seems to matter to the Thunder. They know when they step on the floor tonight, it’s not the seemingly perfect image of the Warriors they will be facing. Their task is much simpler: they just have to face the men.
“I think we match up well,” Dion Waiters said. “Just comes down to a lot of different things and I think we match up well.”
Despite a 0-3 record against the record breaking Warriors during the regular season, Oklahoma City may be best suited to knocking them off.
Yet, Golden State heads into the matchup confident that there is nothing new at this point in the season that can be unleashed on them.
“I don’t think so,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr told Warriors.com. “I think we’ve pretty much seen everything. The Spurs really gave us a new look late in the season, where they just ran out at Steph 30-feet from the basket and forced him into a drive. That was different. But for the most part, I think we’ve seen everything we’re going to see.”
However, the Thunder see themselves as a much different squad than the one the Warriors swept in the season and it has shown in their postseason play.
“It comes down to who wants it more,” Durant said. “That’s kind of what you’ve got to rely on towards the middle of the series. Beginning of the series, you’re still trying to feel things out. But in games 3, 4 and 5, you kind have to see who wants it more.”