Don’t be fooled, the Thunder still control the Western Conference finals

The Warriors put their best shot on the chins of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday night, and that was enough to extend the series another game.

But while the Warriors secured the necessary win, 120-111, they didn’t gain the other thing they really needed –€” control.

The Warriors landed punch after proverbial punch in Game 5. It wasn’t a perfect Golden State performance, but it was their best of the series so far. The Thunder not only withstood the barrage, they –€” as they have all series –€” counterpunched with deft efficiency.

No matter what the Warriors were able to do Thursday, the Thunder (specifically Kevin Durant), came down and answered. The Warriors, no matter how hard they tried, couldn’t finish OKC.

Game 5 was going to tell us everything we needed to know about the remainder of the series. Had the Warriors won big Thursday, all bets were off. They’d carry a mental advantage into Game 6, and if they used that to win in Oklahoma City to force a Game 7 at Oracle Arena, they’d be riding a giant wave of momentum back to California. We all know how that winner-take-all game would have gone down.

The Warriors needed to prove that they had figured out the Thunder in Game 5 –€” that not only could they beat them, but they could overpower them.

But at the end of Game 5, as the Thunder made another late run to close the gap in a contest the Warriors thought they had wrapped up, it was Oklahoma City high-fiving and cheering. The Warriors, the victors, looked totally exhausted.

It took everything out of Curry and the Warriors to beat the Thunder by nine Thursday. The loss didn’t intimidate the Thunder, it seemed to encourage them. Ultimately, OKC returns to the Midwest knowing that it didn’t show any cracks that can’t be covered up by home-court advantage and a better all-around game from Russell Westbrook.

Many will allege this series has changed ahead of Game 6 because Curry is back, but make no mistake, he is still not himself.

He’s not finishing at the rim like he did before he injured his right knee in the first round of the playoffs, and that’s allowing the Thunder to dictate the shots he’s taking.

Normally, Curry would pull up from anywhere on the court, stretching the defense and opening up driving lanes, from which he could dish it out to an open teammate or finish with LeBron James-level efficiency at the rim.

But Curry’s legs aren’t allowing him to shoot from 30 feet in this series, so the Thunder aren’t defending him out there. Instead, they’re closing in on him at the 3-point line, like they would for every other 3-point shooter, and are encouraging him to drive to the basket, where oftentimes there are three 7-footers waiting. Curry might get around one, or even two, but he’s at a tremendous disadvantage amongst the trees — especially post-injury. Curry is shooting 46 percent inside the restricted area this series. He made 62.5 percent of those shots in the regular season, well above the league average.

If Curry’s offensive game isn’t dynamic, the Thunder will remain in control of the series. And through five games, it is not dynamic.

Klay Thompson is an elite rhythm shooter who is also an elite on-ball defender, but his second responsibility is more important to the Warriors now that he’s Westbrook’s primary marker. His legs weren’t the same having to chase Westbrook in Game 5 –€” he was 2-of-9 from beyond the arc.

Draymond Green isn’t a player you can count on to score in isolation, and when the ball has come to him, his shot has looked ugly most of the series.

So the Warriors are counting on second or (more realistically) third-tier options to contribute significant offense. Thursday, they picked up a combined 29 points from Mo Speights and Andrew Bogut. Those are points they can’t count on in Game 6.

Meanwhile, the impossible Durant scored seemingly every time the Warriors appeared poised to pull away, hitting contested shots over outstretched arms with ruthless ease. The Thunder can always count on those backbreaking points.

The Warriors really needed to land a knockout blow Thursday to feel good about their prospects for the rest of the series. Ultimately, they only tired themselves out trying to floor the stable-footed Thunder.

This isn’t to say that the Warriors can’t win Game 6 and set up a winner-take-all Game 7 on their home court, but it’s going to take a much better effort than they displayed Thursday, and by the looks of it, they don’t have a better effort in them.