Game 5 Preview: Thunder (1-3) vs Blazers (3-1)
Time: 9:30 PM CT
The Thunder are facing playoff elimination tonight in Portland, falling to 1-3 in the first round series after Sunday’s Game 4 loss in Oklahoma City. If you’ve been paying attention to the media, you know just about everyone is counting OKC out. Winning Game 5 on the road won’t be easy, but fear of elimination should ignite a renewed sense of urgency for the team.
Tip-off is at 9:30 PM CT and will be televised on TNT and Fox Sports Oklahoma. The Thunder are 4-point road underdogs, but I love a good comeback story.
Andre Roberson: Out – Knee
Hamidou Diallo: Out – Elbow
Jusuf Nurkic: Out – Leg
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What to Watch For
Russell Westbrook. No one has taken more flack for the Thunder’s Game 4 loss than Russell Westbrook. Call me a serial Russ optimist, but it’s not all his fault. Has he been overly emotional, taking too many shots, and giving Lillard too much space on defense? Yes. However, he’s also been nearly perfect from the free throw line and averaging more assists per game than any other player in the playoffs. The Thunder need Westbrook to lead this team perfectly tonight and that starts with trusting his teammates and shot-selection. Russ is most effective when he finishes at the rim, but in order to do that, he needs space in the paint. Adams, George, and Grant have to do a better job spacing the floor for Westbrook tonight, otherwise, we’re looking at another 5-of-20 shooting night.
Billy Donovan. Love him or hate him, Donovan’s future as the head coach of the Thunder could depend on the outcome of this game/series. In Game 4, especially, Donovan was thoroughly out-coached by Terry Stotts. When the Thunder cut the lead to 10 at the end of the third quarter, Donovan had an opportunity to get the Thunder back on top. However, his lineups appeared to have no strategic purpose (i.e. resting Paul George, but bringing him back like 30 seconds later when McCollum hit a three) and he’s yet to find the answer to “Dame-Time” in the third quarter. Tonight, Donovan needs to be more deliberate with his choices (give me less Raymond Felton, please) and keep a handle on the team’s emotions.
Jerami Grant. The Thunder will need another huge shooting night from Jerami Grant. This series, he’s shooting 38.9% from three on 4.5 attempts per game. One improvement Coach Donovan can make is creating more plays to get Grant open for the baseline three. In the regular season, Grant attempted 51 shots from the right baseline with 37% accuracy. I’ll take that all day.
Dame-Time. Remember in Game 3 when Dennis Schröeder mocked Lillard for not showing up in the fourth quarter? The same thing happened in Game 4 where Lillard put up 0 points in the fourth. Different outcomes, obviously; but to me, this is proof the Thunder can mitigate Lillard offensively if they really want to. Stopping a Lillard three-point takeover is the single most important thing the Thunder can do tonight. Once Lillard gets going, it doesn’t take long for McCollum (and Aminu, apparently) to follow and that’s an uphill battle the Thunder can’t afford to fight.