The Oklahoma City Thunder fell to the Utah Jazz on the road in game 3, 115-103. In a game that was not as close as the final score indicates, the Thunder were largely dominated from mid-2nd quarter on, showing few signs of a team that understands the gravity of the situation it now faces. Meanwhile, the Jazz have steadily accelerated through the last five quarters, with their defense kicking in and suddenly their offense resembling something more along the lines of the Raptors than a stodgy, grind-it-out type that they have been known for in years past.
You could fling a dart at the carnival wall of balloons and just about any one of them would pop and reveal something the Thunder did poorly. But let’s stick with the three biggest ones.
- OKC isn’t rebounding. Blame it on injuries or whatever, but the fact of the matter is, much of their identity for the past three seasons has been their ability to pound other teams on the glass. That isn’t happening, as the Thunder front line is getting outworked and both Jazz guards Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell corralled more boards than any Thunder guy not named Westbrook.
- OKC stopped defending the three. In game one, they clearly had a plan to take away Joe Ingles, especially in the corners. Tonight, their defense and even basic tracking of the Jazz forward was horrific, as he seldom faced even a hand in his face on his way to 5-10 shooting from three and 21 points overall. And let’s not even talk about Rubio’s one-legged, 28 foot buzzer beater at the end of the 3rd. That kind of sleepy, “ah, whatever” D is par for the course for this Thunder team all season long.
- OKC’s offense, designed and cultivated to thrive off defense and rebounding, is doing neither of those (see above) and as a result, their already semi-simplistic offense is being swallowed by Utah’s stellar effort. As a consequence, Russell Westbrook, the catalyst who makes everything go, is having the worst playoff series we’ve seen from him perhaps ever. His jump shooting mechanics continue to be a mess and he can’t take advantage of the Jazz’s sagging defense to prevent him from making quick reads. Instead he’s running into crowds and pivoting with jump passes as if there is a play being run, but either he or everyone else forgot to bring the sheet music.
Or in other words:
Every Utah possession is a fun ride, you know it's going to end well.— pat muldowney (@patmuldowney) April 22, 2018
Each OKC possession legitimately feels like a guy trying to out-bad-decision the prior possession.
Is Westbrook hurt? Maybe (his last shot attempt in the game was with 3:12 left in the 3rd). Is Adams hurt? Probably. But the thing is, and what we’ve been saying all year, is that when you play as if there is always another day to make up your losses, you will eventually run out of time. OKC has procrastinated from fixing their basic, fundamental issues all season long, and now it is coming to bear, and none of what we just witnessed is all that surprising. Heck, we witnessed it at least a dozen times, sometimes even against the league’s worst. It is entirely...entirely...consistent with OKC’s standard during the regular season.
Meanwhile, the Jazz have been playing as if there is no next day to recover, and doing it for four straight months. It was only a couple weeks ago that they weren’t even a playoff seed. Every step matters, and so does every skipped step.
Will OKC take a step forward, or trip over the next one too? Time will tell.