When the Oklahoma Thunder fell behind by double digits in the early stages of game one, they did so because they were tight. When the Thunder fell behind by nine early in game 2, they did so because they were flat. The professor can forgive tight, however, flat is an entirely different matter.
In forty-eight minutes, the Thunder managed to put together a 6-minute spurt in the third quarter in which they did the two things they have to do to beat the Utah Jazz. They controlled the pace and stayed with Utah on the boards, and turned a 9-point hole into a 10-point lead before a bogus call against Corey Brewer stalled the run.
From that point on, it was all Jazz. They controlled the pace, the glass, and in the end, the score.
The Thunder lost by seven points. They left 6 at the free throw line, gave up 15 offensive rebounds that netted the Jazz eleven points, and only made up 3 points on the fast break. Free throws are focus related, rebounds are the result of effort, and generating fast breaks come from aggression. Focus, effort, and aggression; the Jazz played with all three for a full 48 minutes and overcame what is a fairly obvious talent deficit.
Therein lies the Thunder’s primary fault. They have spent most of this season relying strictly on their talent and when they did it again in game 2, they walked away with an empty sack.
Talent alone won’t cut it.
Oklahoma City won some big games this year and have become fairly comfortable saying that they are a team that can beat anyone, but here is a sobering thought. The Thunder, and their 22 All-Star years combined, split their season series with Golden State, while the Jazz, without a single All-Star year as far as I know, won theirs, 3 to 1. The Thunder took the season series from Houston, 2 to 1, while the Jazz lost all 4, BUT, 3 of those losses came during Rudy Gobert’s absence, and the 4th loss came during the Rockets NBA best 17 games winning streak. Side note — the Jazz were the only team that fell victim during that Rocket’s streak to hold Houston under 100 points. Not even the Raptors, the team that finally ended the streak, kept the Rockets below the century mark.
Fact. Since a bad loss in Atlanta on January 22, 3 games into Gobert’s return, the Jazz have racked up 30 wins in 37 games, including game 2 of the playoffs. Only the Houston Rockets were better, and if the Thunder aren’t willing to acknowledge they are playing one of the league’s toughest and hardest working teams in the playoffs and step up their effort level, the Jazz are going to send their talented prima-donna behinds on a early vacation.
The “just enough to get to the playoffs” approach the Thunder embraced during the regular season will not work in the postseason, especially against a team that is willing to out-work, out-hustle, and out-muscle them. Winning one game isn’t enough. This series will demand another 3 games played with maximum focus and effort to pull off and in the end, if the Thunder are lucky enough to make it that far, we may look back and realize that the Utah Jazz were the toughest test of these playoffs.
(Honestly, I don’t think I have ever seen smiles in a post-game interview from two players that combined for 10 missed shots, with zero makes, in the last quarter of an NBA playoff loss.)
And on that note, let the grading begin:
RK’s Honor Roll
The Dean’s List
Sorry, no honors in a loss like this one. In fact, for bad losses like this, the grading system is strictly pass/fail. Pass is worth 2 points, fail equals zero and hustle stats weigh heavier than any other.
Steven Adams - Was I the only one that noticed that Steven Adams played that entire game with only one arm?
I know Steven is a New Zealander, but I doubt this is a typical Kiwi high-five. What you can’t see in this photo are the marks on Steven’s right shoulder left by “cupping”, a deep tissue treatment, that weren’t visible in game one.
Still, Adams led the team in box outs and tied for screen assists and loose ball recoveries. The man he tied with...
Jerami Grant - Grant didn’t hit either of his 3-point attempts, but he was the only player off the bench in double figures and busted his butt in that fatal fourth quarter, scoring 5 points and grabbing 4 boards, while the Big 3 were laying a big goose egg on the scoreboard.
Corey Brewer - We all know Brewer isn’t 100%. He sprained his knee late in the last game of the season but that hasn’t stopped him from giving the Thunder everything he has. In game 2 he led the team in deflections (7), led the team in contested shots (11), and stole the ball 3 times.
Russell Westbrook - 13 assists, 9 boards, 7 deflections, and a team-leading 4 steals to go along with providing the one burst of energy OKC showed all night during their 3rd quarter run were just enough to make up for a 6 for 19 shooting night and earn “Russell Hustle” a pass for game 2. Barely.
Paul George - In game 2, the “P” in “Playoff P” stood for Poo. Not Poo as in:
but rather Poo as in:
This is Donovan Mitchell’s shot chart for makes:
Nothing over 11 feet, and yet after the Thunder run that put OKC up 10, we get this stellar defensive effort:
Pardon my french, but what the hell was that? All the help defense is to George’s right and he lets himself get caught flat-footed while a hobbled Mitchell blows past his left shoulder and goes in for the easy dunk.
One of the stories that always come out of the playoffs is a player overcoming adversity. George had a hip contusion and Mitchell had a foot contusion. And in the fourth quarter when their teams needed them most, Mitchell made “Playoff P” look like a “Playoff (something I can’t write)”
Carmelo Anthony - “Who me?” Yeh you, and your 2 for 9 from 3-point shootin’, ole or no defense playin’, no blockin’ out Derrick Favors, no passin’, then grinnin’ in the post-game interview like you lost a game of UNO, self.
brick chuckin’ rumpus back to New York, get whatever La La has of yours stored in a jar on a shelf, get in a gym, and don’t come back until you’re ready to do whatever it takes to win. Otherwise, your “can’t play Kanter” moment is coming and coming fast.
Alex Abrines - Listen up young blood. Two shots in 15 minutes, both misses, ain’t gonna cut it when the Thunder have a Josh Huestis that is ten times better at playing defense if you don’t light up that scoreboard.
Ray Felton - Fats ends up on the fail list because he took Abrines down with him. In 12:06 on the floor together, Felton only managed to get Abrines, his best 3-point threat on the bench mob, 2 shots, both in the final minute and forty seconds they were together early in the fourth quarter because he was too busy pounding the rock into the floor looking for his own shot.
Patrick Patterson - I don’t think in my 30+ years of watching the NBA that I have seen a worse shooting big man in the paint.
Billy D’s Evaluation
Again, 30 minutes of “Who Me” is all this team needs, or can stand. In his time spent on the floor over 30 minutes of PT in this series, Melo is 1 for 8. Adjust.
Grade - Fail
Perhaps you think the grades are too harsh — that’s fair, but I don’t. There is little margin for error in the playoffs, no room for coasting (see the Portland Trailblazers low-lights from game 3 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans), and zero tolerance for quitting no matter how ridiculously terrible the officiating might be.
In their post-game interview, Melo said the loss was the result of shots “just not falling.” BULL. This loss was a result of poor shot selection, especially in the latter part of the 3rd and the entire 4th quarter when the Thunder squandered a 10 point lead. While the Jazz, namely their rookie, Donovan Mitchell, were taking care of business and getting to the rim, the Thunder’s Big 3 were coasting, not moving the ball, and settling for low-percentage, highly contested, and not to mention, long, 2-point jumpers.
After this loss, the Thunder must take at least one game on the road to move on and there is no chance that can happen without a serious reality check between now and games 3 and 4.
And it’s going to take grit and determination to get that win, talent alone won’t cut it.