Thunder win Game 1: Four things we learned

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Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

The Warriors know about Enes Kanter

Enes Kanter’s reputation as a bad defensive player is well-earned. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus tabbed him as the worst defensive center in the league this season, estimating that his defense cost the Thunder about 1.61 points per 100 possessions. He is not a shot blocker, not particularly agile, a slow decision-maker in the pick-and-roll, and prone to spacing out on rotations. The Warriors knew that, and repeatedly went after Kanter in the first half.

Kanter played just over five minutes in the first half, during which the Thunder were outscored by seven points. The Warriors took advantage of him in the pick-and-roll and Curry victimized him with a dagger three-pointer on a slow closeout.

Then a funny thing happened. In the second half, Kanter actually held his own. The Thunder were +9 with Kanter on the floor in the second half, he moved a little more quickly, found his way to the right spot with a little more decisiveness and the integrity of Oklahoma City’s defense was able to hold.

Kanter actually played very respectable defense in the last round against the Spurs, but that was an entirely different scenario. San Antonio didn’t go small, which meant Kanter was almost always matched up against Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge or David West. None of those three really stretch out to the three-point line, which meant that Kanter’s area of responsibility shrunk. Big against big, he is a perfectly respectable defender. Watching him defend reasonably well in space against the mobility of the Warriors was another thing altogether.

If Kanter can keep it up and the Thunder can stay big against Golden State’s Death Lineup, then the whole cascading dynamic of matchups shifts.

Next: 1. The Warriors need their MVP