Nick Gallo previews tonight’s Thunder @ Jazz Game 6: “One wrinkle the Thunder threw at the Jazz in Game 5 that may be a factor in Game 6 is the way it switched everything from the point guard through the center position in the second half. While certainly giving up some mismatches by doing that, the Thunder was able to take away some of the Jazz’s drive-kick-lob-kickout action that was previously opening up easy dunks and wide open three-point attempts. The strategy from Donovan definitely made an impact, but the team also recognized moments where their technique and communication on those switches needed to be better.”
Erik Horne on how Billy Donovan will handle Melo in Game 6: “Defensive sustainability is more attainable for the Thunder than Anthony becoming a stopper playing the 35 minutes he averaged in three straight losses. “Of course my competitive nature wanted to be out there and wanted to be a part of what was going on, but the guys that was out there they got it going and got us a lead back,” Anthony said. “They played extremely well to dig us out of that hole. I think coach just made a decision where he was just letting those guys go.” Before wrapping up with the media, Anthony closed with a snippet that signaled sacrifice, but summed up his unwavering confidence and hinted at the ego management Donovan’s had to major in since the future Hall of Famer arrived two days before preseason camp. “If the guys have it going out there, there’s no reason for me to be upset,” Anthony said. “Of course, I want to be in there and be a part of that, but in Game 6 if they have it going, I’ll understand…but hopefully we won’t be in this situation again.”
Bryan Kalbrosky (Hoops Hype) on the Thunder excelling with Alex Abrines & Jerami Grant: “The lineup with Russell Westbrook, Alex Abrines, Paul George, Jerami Grant and Steven Adams has played a total of 10 minutes together during the postseason. Among five-man units that have appeared in as many minutes, their offensive rating (179.3) has been by far the best group in the postseason. Meanwhile, their defensive rating (77.1) is the fourth-best in the Western Conference. This group has outscored opponents by an absurd 1.02 points per possession, which has been 44.5 points per 100 possessions better than the next best five-man unit. They had a slightly larger sample size during the regular season, appearing in 45 minutes together on the court. They had the best offensive rating (117.5) as well as the best defensive rating (84.4) on the team.”
ESPN’s NBA experts discuss Game 6: “I think Thunder-Jazz is the most compelling Game 6 from a strategic standpoint. Oklahoma City changed the series in the second half of Game 5 by switching more pick-and-rolls and playing harder on defense. According to Second Spectrum tracking, Utah’s shot quality dropped from a 55.3 percent qSQ in the first half (quantified shot quality, the effective field goal percentage we’d expect from average players taking those shots based on location, type and nearby defenders) to 51.6 percent after halftime. Forcing Jazz misses and turnovers allowed the Thunder to get out in transition, which along with Rudy Gobert’s absence allowed Westbrook to get high-value shots around the rim. I’m fascinated to see whether Oklahoma City can keep it up in Game 6, particularly with Westbrook — who played the entire second half for the first time since Game 7 of the 2016 Western Conference finals, per ESPN Stats & Information research — expending so much energy.”
Brett Dawson on how OKC will look to get inside — whether Rudy Gobert is waiting or not: “OKC is shooting 41.5 percent as a team in the 174 minutes Gobert has been on the court in the series. That number jumps to 50 in the 66 minutes Gobert has spent on the bench. The Thunder is scoring 96.7 points per 100 possessions with Gobert on the court and 116.1 with him off. When Gobert is on the floor, Oklahoma City is getting 28.8 percent of its field-goal attempts from inside the restricted area. It’s making 54.9 percent of those shots. When Gobert is off the court, 44.5 percent of OKC’s shots come in the restricted area, and it shoots 61.2 percent on those shots. But even before he went to the bench in the third quarter with his fourth foul — then later, his fifth — in Game 5, the Thunder made a habit of attacking inside, often without success. “We missed a lot of shots at the basket, but I thought the intention of what we were trying to do was right,” Donovan said, “and I think we needed to stay with that even though the numbers said at halftime that our shooting percentage was woeful.”
Tom Ziller (SB Nation) on how Russell Westbrook will never change: “One could say that he trusts the process. The Thunder have typically won more than they’ve lost when Westbrook is out there being Westbrook, which he always is. So damn the discrete results. Damn the interim outcomes. Trust the process that got you here. Westbrook is hardly an analytic darling, but the theoretical basis of Westbrook’s attitude and his refusal to adjust to common conceptions of hot hands, cold hands, and that bugaboo momentum lines up perfectly which what the metric crowd supports. Dataheads would prefer Westbrook take fewer contested, pull-up jumpers — especially those reviled long twos — but compromise is in order. Westbrook doesn’t change, no matter what’s happening on the court. He is not subdued by misses, he does not swell after makes. Plenty of good NBA players could learn from that.”
Jonathan Tjarks (Ringer) on Russell Westbrook, John Wall, and if this is as good as it gets for either: “The window is closing for Russell Westbrook and John Wall. No players have more on the line in the first round of the playoffs than the two hyperathletic point guards. A loss to Utah could push Paul George out the door in Oklahoma City, a crippling blow for a franchise with no way to replace him. Wall has been under fire all season in Washington, which has never lived up to expectations and may look to make changes if it loses to Toronto. Wall and Westbrook are fighting for their futures in Game 6 of their respective first-round series on Friday. They have the talent to put their teams on their backs and stave off elimination. That may be their biggest problem.”
Around the League: The Bucks and Celtics are headed for Game 7…. Steph Curry is practicing in full ahead of Game 1 vs the Pelicans…. The Grizzlies reached a 3-year agreement with head coach JB Bickerstaff…. The loneliest beat in the NBA.