The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Utah Jazz in game 1 of the opening round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, 116-108. The Thunder were led by Paul George and Russell Westbrook, who combined to score 65 points to go along with 20 rebounds. OKC also got 15 points from Carmelo Anthony, but he only shot 5-13 and 2-7 from 3-point range. Steven Adams, who struggled with the Jazz defense for most of the night, finished the 4th strong with 12 points and 7 rebounds. The Jazz were led by wunderkind rookie Donovan Mitchell, who finished with 27-10-3 on 11-22 shooting, but may have injured his foot/ankle late in the 4th when Corey Brewer stepped on him.
Given the roller-coaster season the Thunder have just experienced and put us all through, it was probably the least surprising thing in the world to see them fall behind 11-2 with only 3 minutes gone in the game. However, just as we saw in Miami, OKC’s defense refocused itself and the Thunder ground their way back to a tie, which was critical because it set the stage for “Playoff P” to emerge, would be a profoundly silly pronouncement if it didn’t actually come true. Which it did.
Playoff P is more than just a nickname for Paul George pic.twitter.com/o3JIX2iEYw— SB Nation (@SBNation) April 16, 2018
PG was unconscious behind the arc, nearly single-handedly propelling OKC to a lead that they would ultimately not lose through the final three quarters. If you were to ask Adams to describe said performance, he might say something similar to this. In fact you could even go so far to say that
PG was swingin’ so bad that he’s gonna trip over himself, but I probably can’t say something like that, so I won’t.
With George getting a breather, Westbrook came on strong in the 4th, repeatedly running Ricky Rubio and others into right block mismatches and producing open looks and lobs to Jerami Grant and Adams. Russ finished the 4th with 8 points and 4 assists, which helped OKC build what should have been a comfortable 18 point lead at 109-91 with 3:20 to go. Unfortunately, we know these Thunder, and over the next 3 minutes the Jazz, sans Mitchell, went on a 17-5 run to suddenly make it a 2 possession game. Missed free throws (Adams, Melo), rushed possessions (Westbrook) and the absence of George, who was getting treatment for a hip contusion, made the game a little too close for comfort. Fortunately for OKC, their lead survived and they earn a hard-fought game 1 win.
- George did one of the best Stephen Curry impersonations I’ve seen in a long time, dancing around the 3-point line and hitting absurd, objectively bad jumpers with a hand in his face. As impressive as it was to watch that, I kind of hope OKC doesn’t build a game plan around that happening again.
- Westbrook’s shot continues to come and go, as he missed all four 3-point attempts. Gotta remember that the Jazz want him taking those long jumpers, and thankfully he remembered too, late in the game. Repeatedly hammering Jazz defenders in the block and in the PnR, he unveiled this beauty, a testament to patience, spacing, and movement over the outstretched hands of Gobert.
- Donovan Mitchell will hopefully be ok after tweaking his ankle; he wanted to re-enter the game, but his coaches likely held him out as a precaution. He had a fantastic playoff debut, but it’s also clear that the Thunder are going to make him work hard for everything he gets.
- One of the hidden keys to the game is the defensive job the Thunder did on Rubio, who struggled to a 5-18 shooting night with only 5 assists against 3 turnovers. Gobert and Joe Ingles both statistically had strong nights, but they were largely kept in check because of how OKC defended the point.
- Alec Burks had a little 2 minute Steph Curry run in there himself, which would have been fun except it totally wasn’t.
- Jerami Grant struggled a bit finishing around the rim with Gobert lurking, but that didn’t deter him from trying. Even better, Grant hit Alex Abrines twice with great passes to key him up for open corner three’s, which paved the way to building the lead. Take a look.
#1 - Take a look at where Abrines starts and where he ends up. Great 2-man action between the bench guys.
#2 - It’s a set play, because Grant easily could have taken a dribble and flushed it, but instead pivots and fires a perfect pass right into Abrines’ shooting pocket.
- Melo: 37 minutes, 5-13 shooting, 3 turnovers, none of them good as he simply can’t hold his position against stronger guys like Jae Crowder, and isn’t even fast enough to get by a guy like Ingles. Less Melo, more Grant.
- OKC is going to have a problem on their hands with Burks and Dante Exum if the Thunder don’t get better production out of their bench. Both guys scored with startling ease, and I fully expect Jazz coach Quin Snyder to utilize those advantages more when the game is still in reach next time around.