Utah at Oklahoma City
Time: 7 PM CT (NBA TV)
Spread: OKC -4.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The prevalent notion in my series preview was that the Utah Jazz simply does not have enough offense to stay with the Oklahoma City Thunder in this series. It was not disproven yet. Russell Westbrook and the Thunder dominated the series opener to win 116-108 and beyond that, Utah’s best source of offense the entire season is listed as “questionable” for Game 2.
Potential Rookie of the Year Donovan Mitchell suffered a bruised left foot in Game 1, while also as usual leading the Jazz in scoring with 27 points on 11 of 22 shooting. Without Mitchell, this game threatens to not even be close, but it is the postseason and one would assume if the Louisville product can even walk, he will play. As of three hours before game time, however, it is still undecided as the Thunder are precarious 4.5-point favorites from Chesapeake Energy Arena, where the game will tip off at 7 PM on NBA TV for cable subscribers.
The Thunder more or less got exactly what it needed from free-agent-to-be Paul George in Game 1. The former Indiana Pacer forward dropped 36 points on 13 of 20 shooting (65 percent) while drilling eight three-point buckets and coming up with seven rebounds, as well. Russell Westbrook was dominant and in fine form in his own right, scoring 29 points and distributing eight assists to go with his team-leading 13 rebounds.
The Thunder held a plus-4 advantage on the glass but did struggle taking care of the basketball in having 17 turnovers and just 16 team assists. That can be where it begins its improvement, but if the Thunder shoot 48 percent from the field again and get all three of their “Big Three” at least 13 field goal attempts (That was Carmelo Anthony who was just 5 of 13), then one would assume that the adage offense over defense proves faithful once again, howsoever important defensive efforts really are in the postseason.
There is also the caveat that this series thus far has been played at a pace favoring the Pacers. Utah is the slowest team in the NBA pace-wise, and given that the total is set at 207 and Game 1 saw the teams combine for 224 points, it is not a trend that favors Utah and its slow-it-down approach centered around defensive standout Rudy Gobert. Gobert had 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in Game 1, but held Steven Adams to a similar line and helped contain George from having yet a bigger night still.
The Thunder’s bench was bettered by Utah’s too, so it is really heavily reliant on its superstars while managing to get just 17 points from its collection of rag-tag reserves. The Jazz got strong games from a trio of second unit players, with Jae Crowder, Dante Exum, and Alec Burks all scoring in double-figures despite the loss. So, the improvements for OKC are as follows: Get Anthony more involved, get more from its bench, and take better care of the basketball. All Utah really can worry about is Mitchell’s status, because without his services this game will not even be particularly close. Mitchell may not win this series or the Rookie of the Year award, but he is a phenomenal player and the Jazz are absolutely crippled without his 20-plus points per game, being that the team averages so few by today’s NBA standards, anyway.
Sure, there was once the option of turning to Rodney Hood to drop 20 or 30 points, but since dealing Hood for Jae Crowder the Jazz only spiraled further into a brand of basketball, that, at least, Salt Lake City residents seem to adore fairly well enough. Expect Utah to try to slow it down with or without Mitchell, but whether Ricky Rubio can masterfully control the pace (and Westbrook) or not, is an entirely different matter. It is unlikely. It is why OKC goes up 2-0 tonight.