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Thunder vs Jazz preview: Five Things to Watch in Game Two

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What We Learned from Game One and What to Look out for in Game Two- In 5 Easy Numbers

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

We’re back for the playoffs, with 5 numbers to set the stage for Game 2 of Oklahoma City’s first round playoff series against the Utah Jazz. The Thunder lead the series 1-0 and will be playing at home tonight.


Last season the Thunder lost their first round series in the minutes Russell Westbrook sat, as Russ himself actually finished with a positive +/- for the series against Houston. For one game at least, the new look Thunder managed to solve that issue. Russ actually finished this game -1, but the Thunder managed to flourish in the minutes he sat, going +9. A unit of Carmelo Anthony and bench players brought the Thunder back to a tie at the end of the first quarter after a disastrous start, while the more traditional Paul George plus bench unit extended the lead to start the second quarter. Alex Abrines in particular shined for the bench, going 3-5 on his 3’s and finishing +15. Jerami Grant, who logged some minutes at center in a super small ball lineup that smothered the Jazz’s bench unit, was extremely effective on defense despite a quiet offensive game. If the Thunder can continue to do this well in the minutes Russ sits, they should cruise to victory tonight.

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports


Let’s get one thing straight- even if Paul George had gone out and dropped 100 points in game 1, “Playoff P” is still an extremely cheesy nickname. And yet, by going out and putting up a massive 36 points in his first playoff game in a Thunder uniform, George has forced us all to keep calling him by his (again, extremely lame) self-given nickname. George was lights-out from 3 point land. Some of his 8 makes were way too open, and the Jazz will adjust, but others were well-contested- George is just too tall, with too fast a release, for anyone the Jazz can put on him. His defense was phenomenal as well- he held Joe Ingles to a quiet 13 points, and by sealing Ingles off, forced the Jazz guards to settle for multiple bad shots. The Thunder may be Westbrook’s team, but it was Paul George who won them game 1.

The Jazz will try to guard him more tightly, but when George’ shot is falling like it was last night, there’s little that can be done- over-focusing on George makes the game easier for Westbrook and Melo. If George’s shot isn’t falling, the Thunder will need one of their other superstars to take over. If it is falling, the Thunder will cruise- and we may have to call him “Playoff P” forever.

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports


Ricky Rubio took 18 shot attempts in game 1. He hit only 5 of them. That is exactly what the Thunder want. Rubio has many gifts, and is a fantastic passer, but he remains an ineffective scorer. The Thunder, as expected, backed off him and dared him to shoot. He was unable to make them pay, missing all his 3’s and several long 2’s. By switching a lot of early actions, the Thunder were also able to force Rubio into desperation drives as the shot clock wound down. Every shot Rubio takes is one Donovan Mitchell doesn’t, and thus every Rubio shot except a wide open layup is a win for the Thunder.

The Jazz will try to adjust, and get the ball in Mitchell’s hands more often. Mitchell looked as poised as any veteran in game 1, dropping 27 points on 22 shots. He bailed the Jazz out with several tough shots late in the clock, and sliced the Thunder up in transition. (By the way: despite the win, the Thunder coughed up the ball 17 times, and the one time the Jazz looked in control of game 1 was early, when the Thunder barfed up bad shots and turnovers and gave the Jazz easy transition opportunities. The Jazz are not good enough offensively to win in the half-court; if the Thunder can take better care of the ball, they can get an even easier win). Mitchell is questionable with a bruised foot, but assuming he’s healthy, look for the Jazz to try to get him the ball even more than in game 1. The Thunder switched heavily on defense in game 1, but generally started possessions with Corey Brewer guarding Mitchell. If Mitchell really gets going, I still wouldn’t be surprised to see Paul George get switched on to the rookie.

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports


One troubling number to note among a generally impressive win for the Thunder- they scored only 32 points in the paint. It didn’t matter because the Thunder shot a scorching 14 of 29 from 3 point range, and if the team continues it to shoot it that well their paint performance won’t matter. But sometimes your shots don’t fall. And if the Thunder go cold from the perimeter, they’ll need to probe further inside. Rudy Gobert will be there waiting for them, and the Thunder wanted nothing to do with him in game 1. Russell Westbrook repeatedly settled for pull-up midranger jumpers in the pick and roll, and even when those are open, Russ just isn’t that good at them. Westbrook needs to go to the rim, and I know he’s not afraid of Gobert, because he’s not afraid of anyone. What better time to remind everyone of that fearlessness than in the playoffs? Get in there Russ! Try to jam it on Gobert! If Russ can get some traction in the paint, or draw some fouls on Gobert, the Jazz will need to send more help, which will open up even easier perimeter shots. That didn’t happen nearly enough in game 1.

NBA: Playoffs-Utah Jazz at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Another way Gobert impacted game 1- he matched Steven Adams on the glass, with each gargantuan coming away with 4 offensive rebounds (it shows just what a monster Adams is that grabbing 4 offensive rebounds means he was “limited”). The Thunder slightly out-rebounded the Jazz, but the teams had the same number of offensive rebounds, normally an area where the Thunder crush their competition. Like points in the paint, that matters less when the Thunder are as hot from deep as they were in game 1, and if Playoff P (damn it) stays that hot, it won’t matter. But if the Thunder are struggling from range and forced into a low scoring, slug-it-out kind of game, they’ll need more on the glass. Adams was by no means ineffective, but he wasn’t at his most dominant either. Look to see if he can get an edge over Gobert tonight. And let’s all continue to enjoy the sight of Adams and Gobert trying to destroy each other going for boards. Next time you hear someone complain about how the NBA isn’t “tough” anymore, just remember the sight of these two monstrosities smashing their bodies into each other under the basket.


Sorry to re-use this number. Only 18 teams in NBA history have come back after falling down two games to none in a best of 7 series, per In the other nearly 300 cases, the team with the 2-0 lead has gone on to win. Getting a win tonight won’t guarantee OKC wins the series- the Thunder have blown a bigger series lead in recent memory- but it will go a long way towards getting the Thunder a second round appearance against the winner of a Rockets-Wolves series that looked far more competitive than expected in game 1.


Who do you think will win game 2?

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