The Thunder come into the game against Utah tired, but with momentum on their side. The team has won four of their last five games with two victories coming on the road. Oklahoma City has hit a good run of form where the offense has been operating smoothly, and Lady Luck has been on the team’s side.
OKC played Utah on the first day of the season and lost by five points due to Donovan Mitchell picking the Thunder’s defense apart. Tonight’s game starts at 9:00 (EST) and is the second night of a back to back for the Thunder and against a contender, the type of game which is usually considered a schedule loss.
Utah handled Memphis a few days ago and the Jazz will be confident after winning that game, despite playing without Mike Conley.
3 Thunder Notes
1. Down to Dort
Luguentz Dort played extended minutes against the Blazers after getting his debut against the Timberwolves. Dort, a rookie drafted out of Arizona, has played sparingly to start the season, but he looked good against the Blazers. Dort only scored two points, but his defense on Lillard and McCollum was important into forcing the Blazers into a bad shooting night. Lillard and McCollum shot 0-6 when Dort was the primary defender which is indicative of Lu’s defensive intensity. Lu made a point of picking up Lillard and McCollum a few feet behind the three-point arc which crowded the space for the Blazers guards. It became significantly harder to run their offence as Dort had a body on them during the possession. It was refreshing to see a young player constantly fight over screens and put defence first. Although Lu fouled out after just twenty minutes, his energy was big for the Thunder as it disrupted Lillard’s rhythm on offense.
2. Alexander the Great
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander did not start the game well on offense, going 1-8 on all attempts taken before the fourth quarter started. SGA struggled with getting layups over Hassan Whiteside, who is a talented shot-blocker when locked into the game. This was a teachable moment for Alexander, he seemed to realise that Whiteside is a tough task at the rim, but... he can be beaten in space.
Alexander used the floater much more down the stretch, which created defensive uncertainty on the part of the Blazers. The change enabled Shai to shoot 4-6 on field goals in the final period and the offense received consistent production which would eventually put the Blazers away.
Chris Paul stated Alexander does not let his head drop and “never got down” about shooting poorly to start the game. The continued aggression resulted in 14 points on four makes, crucial points that the Thunder needed to handle Portland.
3. Chris Paul and Rudy Gobert Duel
Chris Paul and Rudy Gobert will be an interesting battle to watch as Paul is one of the few players who has made Gobert look mortal on the defensive end. Rudy is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and his ability to envelop shots at the rim is one of the key reasons why Utah is so stingy on that end of the floor.
Gobert’s rim protection is arguably the best in the league, but Chris Paul made Gobert’s rim protection less valuable in the playoffs. Houston dismantled the Jazz in last year’s playoffs in part due to Paul consistently using the floater to draw Gobert out into space. Utah’s defense was designed to limit perimeter and inside looks, but the effect of this defensive scheming was that the mid-range was left open.
For Paul, who has a consistent floater, this was child’s play. CP3 consistently dropped into the mid-range and score floater after floater over Gobert’s outstretched hands. Gobert is uncomfortable defending in space and Paul made him defend in space constantly which won the series for Houston. It will be interesting to see if Paul continues to use this weapon against Gobert.
1. Mike Conley
Conley is out with a hamstring injury and will not play against the Thunder. Conley has been inconsistent to start the season as he adapts to a new system, new city and new coaching style after spending 11 years with the Memphis Grizzlies. Conley was the last remnant of the ‘Grit and Grind’ Grizzlies to depart Tennessee and signalled the end of an era of tough defensive-minded basketball.
2. Bojan Bogdanovic
Bogdanovic was a free agency addition that does not garner much fanfare in the summer of 2019. The entire league was focused on the drama surrounding Kevin Durant, Paul George and Anthony Davis, which meant that Utah signing the former Pacer went under the radar.
Bogdanovic was an excellent pick-up by Utah, as he is an efficient scoring forward and an intelligent defender. Bogdanovic is not fleet-footed, but he uses his frame and intelligence to counter-act his lack of speed on defense.
Bogdanovic is currently averaging 20/4/2 on fairly efficient shooting. Utah have used Bojan on the perimeter to great effect as Bogdanovic is averaging 3.1 three-point makes per game, and his shooting percentage from this area of the floor is 45.4%. This would rank 3rd in the league out of all players who attempt more than six three-pointers per game; the only players ahead of Bogdanovic are JJ Redick and Joe Harris, two elite marksmen.
The Thunder coaching staff cannot allow Bogdanovic to get a rhythm from deep as the game will be over very quickly.
Steven Adams has started to show flashes of legitimate shooting from deep. Adams took an attempt in the game the other night against the Minnesota Timberwolves off a Chris Paul feed. Adams, who was standing in the corner, cast the jumper up and it missed everything.
The actual form on the jump-shot was pretty solid, Adams had a good release point and got a good amount of elevation on the shot. Adams needs to keep taking this shot in game so he can become proficient from deep. This would be another weapon for Adams to deploy and would punish sagging defenses.
Who do you think will win tonight?
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