Game 6 Preview: Thunder @ Jazz
Time: 9:30 PM CT
TV: ESPN / FSOK
Radio: WWLS (98.1 FM OKC / 97.1 FM Tulsa)
During halftime of Game 5, I, like many Thunder fans, was ready to deem this season a failure and spend the next couple months waiting anxiously for Paul George’s decision. I wasn’t even mad that OKC was about to drop the series 4-1. I was mad because I cared so much about advancing to the second round, while the players looked like they couldn’t care less. After 10 years of being a Thunder fan and being proved wrong on several occasions, I still haven’t learned my lesson:
Never, ever doubt Russell Westbrook.
Heading into tonight’s Game 6, the internal switch that Westbrook flipped midway through the third quarter has to be on from the opening tip. As awesome as it was to see the Thunder execute a 25-point turnaround, that type of comeback (tied for the 5th largest in NBA playoff history) won’t happen twice and certainly not in front of a relentless Utah crowd. Winning in Salt Lake City and forcing a Game 7 will be a tall order for the Thunder, but if I learned anything from Game 5 it’s that Russell Westbrook never gives up — so neither will I.
Hype video courtesy of the Thunder:
Tip-off is at 9:30 PM CT on ESPN and Fox Sports Oklahoma. The Jazz is currently a 6.5-point favorite according to Odds Shark.
- Andre Roberson: Out – Knee
- Thabo Sefolosha: Out – Knee
Jazz: Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert
Utah leads series 3-2
Game 1: OKC 116, UTAH 108 [BOX SCORE]
Game 2: UTAH 102, OKC 95 [BOX SCORE]
Game 3: UTAH 115, OKC 102 [BOX SCORE]
Game 4: UTAH 113, OKC 96 [BOX SCORE]
Game 5: OKC 107, UTAH 99 [BOX SCORE]
Game 6: Tonight @ Utah, 9:30 PM CT
Game 7*: Sunday @ OKC
OKC will need another MVP-level performance from Westbrook if it wants to bring the series back to the ‘Peake. In Game 5, Russ posted a monstrous 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists with 34 of his points coming after halftime. He played the entire second half for only the second time in his career (the other was Game 7 against the Warriors in 2016).
The highest priority for Russ tonight should be keeping his emotions in check. In OKC’s Game 4 blowout loss, Russ had two fouls early in the first quarter and four fouls by halftime — not a good look. Westbrook’s emotional play is his biggest strength and his biggest weakness, but Russ finding the appropriate balance between playing smart and playing hard will be of the utmost importance on the road in Game 6.Playoff P.
Whether or not OKC wins tonight is largely dependent on whether “Playoff P” decides to show up. In both of OKC’s wins in this series, Paul George had explosive performances. In Game 5, he contributed a hefty 34 points and 8 rebounds. More importantly, he was the perfect complement to Westbrook’s second-half takeover.
At one point after halftime, Westbrook and George were responsible for 39 consecutive Thunder points. From the 8:30 mark of the third, OKC outscored the Jazz 61-28 with the two men scoring or assisting on all 61 of OKC’s points in that span (h/t @MicahAdams13). The entire reason OKC traded for George was so Westbrook wouldn’t have to carry this team by himself. In another must-win moment, the Thunder will need Playoff P more than ever.Rudy Gobert.
As much as I hate to admit it, Rudy Gobert racking up five fouls certainly helped lead the Thunder to victory in Game 5. Up until Gobert’s fourth foul, he was noticeably dominating Steven Adams under the basket. The Thunder can’t count on Gobert foul trouble to win again tonight, but may be able to take advantage of the fact that Gobert might be playing on the cautious side.
Adams will need to do what he does best: play physical and make Gobert work hard for every offensive rebound or putback. The Thunder could also benefit from drawing Gobert out of the lane much as possible, but that is more difficult unless Westbrook has a phenomenal shooting night from mid-range/long distance. In any matter, OKC staying aggressive near the rim and making the officials put air in the whistles is a good idea.Corner 3 Defense.
After rewatching the first half of Game 5 without the veil of anger and frustration, it became painfully obvious that Utah repeatedly ran one play designed to facilitate a Jae Crowder or Joe Ingles three-pointer. The setup is similar to the pick and roll that OKC often runs, but instead, it features two screeners (instead of one) and places two shooters (Ingles and Crowder) in the corners. This gives the Jazz the flexibility to adjust mid-play depending on how the OKC defense responds. The unfortunate result of this was all those Ingles and Crowder corner threes that made the ‘Peake audibly groan.
The Thunder has to communicate better on defense tonight, otherwise missed switches or incorrect rotations could combine to create another sizeable lead for Utah.The Carmelo Conundrum.
During OKC’s historic comeback, one Thunder player was noticeably absent. Carmelo Anthony sat for most of the second half (playing only 26 minutes total) and both of his made field goals came in the first half. While Westbrook and George have had their own lackluster performances this series, Anthony has been consistently bad for the Thunder (-39 for the series to be exact).
During Game 5, the Thunder was -6 with Anthony on the floor and +14 without him. Numbers don’t lie — OKC matches up better against the Jazz when Melo isn’t on the floor. Although I sympathize with Coach Billy Donovan (it can’t be easy to tell a born shooter and future HOF’er to ride the pine in an elimination game), Anthony has not earned the right this season to be on the floor in crunch time like Westbrook, George, and Adams have. It was the correct choice by Donovan to bench Melo in the second half of Game 5 and if a similar situation arises tonight, I hope Donovan has the courage to do it again.