I love the NBA Playoffs. Always have. I love them because every game is played with the volume turned all the way up and nothing is held back. From now until someone is crowned champion, it’s the best basketball players in the world vs the best basketball players in the world giving it everything they have. The stakes couldn’t be any bigger and the pressure doesn’t go any higher THUS, it is the ideal time to break out the grading pencil and go to work.
Just like old St. Nick, I’m going to make a list and check it twice, then I’m gonna find out who’s payin’ the price. Each Thunder player used, as well as Billy Donovan, will get a grade every game. Close out games or games to stop a close out are worth a game and a half. Seventh games in a series are worth double and it will all be based on a 4-point grading system:
Game one against the Utah Jazz is in the books, so let’s see those grades:
RK Honor Roll
Paul George - (top of the class) 36 pts, 7 rebounds, and a steal, and that is just what “Playoff P” did on one end of the court. What he did on the other was just as impressive holding the Jazz’s key offensive catalyst, Joe Ingles, to a single assist, 3 below his season average.
Zero assists and 4 turnovers were George’s only blimishes, but 72.7% on 8 for 11 shooting from beyond the arc more than eradicated any flaws in George’s game on Sunday.
Russell Westbrook - 29 pts, 13 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, 9 for 9 FTs. Russell was Russell, especially when the Thunder needed it on offense, but turning the recently hot Ricky Rubio into a 5 for 18 shooting bust was one of Westbrook’s best defensive performances of the season.
Five turnovers isn’t a horrible number for Russ, but the Jazz capitalized on those miscues and kept pace with the Thunder on fast break points. Westbrook needs to embrace the concept that the easy play is generally the right play.
The Dean’s List
Steven Adams - 12 pts, 7 rebounds, 3 assists. Adams has the biggest (pardon the pun) assignment guarding the Jazz’s 7’1”, Rudy Gobert. Adams didn’t stifle the “Stifle Tower” but did prevent Gobert from taking over on either end.
Adams didn’t shoot the ball as well as we have become accustomed to and was rather quiet most of the night, but came through with 3 critical baskets and 8 points for the Thunder in the fourth quarter. As we have noted throughout the season, 4th quarter shot attempts for Adams are a key factor in how the Thunder close out games.
Carmelo Anthony - 15 pts, 7 rebounds, 2 assists to go with 3 steals and 2 blocked shots. That’s a solid night of work, not spectacular, but doable, on both ends of the floor. The question is, can Melo keep putting in 37 + minutes every night throughout a long playoff run? Or should he even have to at this point?
Alex Abrines - 11 pts, 3 rebounds, 3 of 5 on 3-point attempts. The word of the night for “El Hombre Lobo” was efficient. His defense wasn’t spectacular, but it was gritty. Abrines may be a player to watch if he continues to hit shots at this rate.
Corey Brewer - 7 pts, 3 rebounds, 2 assists. Some may think old RK is going soft on Brewer with this grade as he wasn’t his usual bouncy self after spraining his knee in the final game of the season, but Brewer still found ways to help the Thunder win Sunday.
According to the NBA’s hustle stats, Brewer led the team in deflections (5), loose balls recovered (5), and only Steven Adams contested more shots. He also grabbed 2 steals, blocked a shot, and in 33 minutes only committed one turnover. I’m sorry, if you can’t appreciate the value of those numbers at playoff time, I don’t know what to tell you because it is completely within reason to assume they correlated to a 15 to 20 point swing in the Thunder’s favor.
Jerami Grant - 4 pts, 3 rebounds, 2 assists. Grant only played 14 minutes, 6 minutes below his season average, but during those minutes the Thunder were +12, and his 2 assists were pure basketball magic to behold:
(don’t look now, but the Thunder’s bench has been playing some solid ball lately)
The game is slowing down for Jerami and I would like to see him on the floor a bit more in game 2.
Raymond Felton - 2 pts, 1 rebound, 0 assists. Ray Ray didn’t shoot the ball well and he didn’t rack up many assists, but got the ball moving when he was on the floor and by the sounds of this interview, brought some much needed accountability when the Thunder found themselves behind early:
Patrick Patterson - 0 pts, 0 assists, 2 reb. In limited minutes, 2Pat’s contributions to the game were.... limited, but he was not a liability.
Terrance Ferguson - In 2:28 minutes of playing time, the Rook picked up 2 fouls and nothing more. It was nice to see him get a taste of playoff basketball, and then it was nice to see him sit down, probably with a nice, cool bottle of Gatorade Flow.
Billy D’s Evaluation
The Utah Jazz are a very, very good basketball team and have the record from the end of January to back that up and when you’re in the playoffs, winning is all that matters.
As expected, Donovan tightened up his rotation, used his timeouts more effectively, and made some nice adjustments as the game progressed.
My criticism of Billy’s coaching Sunday was playing Melo too long. Not that Melo didn’t have a nice game, but 37 minutes of playoff basketball is like 50 minutes of regular season ball. There are a lot of games to go if the Thunder are going to reach their goals and if I were Donovan I wouldn’t run Melo any more minutes than his 32 minute season average.
Okay, there you have it. The first marks in the playoff grade book. Some you may agree with, some not, feel free to comment below and show us your grading system.