Thursday Bolts: 4.11.19
Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) recaps last night’s win in Milwaukee: “The Thunder arrived in Milwaukee at 3 a.m. Tuesday night to play a rested, and resting, Bucks team. Paul George didn’t play due to shoulder soreness. Steven Adams played only 12 minutes after taking a hard fall and returning to action in the second half. No matter. In a competitive moment in the final regular season game of the 2018-19 campaign and playoff seeding on the line, the Thunder took care of business in a 127-116 victory on Wednesday night. The win secured the sixth seed in the Western Conference and a date with the Portland Trail Blazers this weekend in the first round. “We wanted to finish out the year as well as we could have, and we did some really, really good things on both ends,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan. This one started out a bit slowly for the Thunder, with a smaller Milwaukee squad sitting in a zone defense and attacking the Thunder in transition and on dribble up three-pointers for 31 first quarter points. In the second quarter, however, the Thunder found its stride. Using a 23-3 run behind an 11-for-18 three-point shooting start, the Thunder took control of the game defensively and ended up riding it out in the second half until it was much too little, too late for the Bucks.”
Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on the 6-seed Thunder taking on the 3-seed Trail Blazers in the first round: “When the last set of games started on Wednesday, it didn’t look as if the Thunder was going to play Portland. The Trail Blazers elected to play six players. Damian Lillard was active but not used. Portland gave up 85 points in the first half and trailed by as many as 28 points. Meanwhile, Denver was in a slugfest with Minnesota. Denver had everything to play for — the No. 2 seed and potential homecourt through two rounds before the Western Conference finals, likely against Golden State. But the Blazers rallied at home. The Nuggets did as well. And the Thunder, riding a five-game winning streak to close the season, somehow has an ideal set of circumstances to start the playoffs.”
A look at the Western Conference playoff bracket:
First round schedule vs Portland:
Kevin Pelton (ESPN) takes a look at Thunder/Blazers: “Why they’re dangerous: It’s a pretty straightforward thing with the Thunder: PG and Russ. That kind of combo can score 75 combined on their own, and completely take over a series. Against top teams, the Thunder had one of the best records in the NBA this season and so much of that was because George and Westbrook elevated in those big games. There are some concerns with George’s health after his missed the final game of the season with shoulder soreness, but at full tilt, the Thunder can be fast and furious, with Westbrook and George roaring at you relentlessly. One big stat and why it matters: If the Thunder are to make a deep run in the postseason, it will come down to Westbrook and George, two of the best hustle players in the NBA. According to NBA.com/stats, George leads the NBA in both deflections and loose ball recoveries, and Westbrook ranks in the top five in both categories.”
Sekou Smith (NBA.com) previews the Thunder’s first round series: “Even though the Thunder are technically considered the underdog in this series, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that they dominated the regular season series. For context’s sake, the only other postseason matchup featuring a 4-0 regular season sweep is the No. 1 Milwaukee-No. 8 Detroit matchup in the Eastern Conference. Using that as some sort of launch point for measuring what these teams will do in a postseason setting, however, is a bit shortsighted. The circumstances in a regular season series can never duplicate the pressure-packed, compressed nature that a playoff series provides. And the urgency both teams will play with now is on another level compared to anything they experienced in those regular season matchups.”
Dave Deckard (Blazers’ Edge) reviews Thunder/Blazers by the numbers: “Oklahoma City is sure to test Kanter in screen and roll situations. The good news is that his counterpart, Steven Adams, isn’t a threat beyond 16 feet. Westbrook’s long jumpers have been shaky too. The Blazers may be able to collapse into the lane when the Thunder try to draw Kanter to the perimeter. Paul George and reserve point guard Dennis Schroder have no such issues, however. If Oklahoma City gets a little creative, they could make the Blazers miss Nurkic’s mobility badly. Portland’s overall defensive numbers haven’t moved much since Nurkic went down, but again that may be due to quality of opponent and sample size. It’s possible the fort will hold, but it’s easy to envision the Thunder moving Portland bigs laterally, then beating perimeter defenders off the dribble.”
Elizabeth Swinton (SI) on every first round matchup: “Oklahoma City is a roller coaster in how its jumped and fallen in the standings this season, and in its inconsistent offensive play, but the Thunder are strong defensively; they hold the fourth-best defensive rating in the league, with Russell Westbrook and Terrance Ferguson as the anchors. The Blazers, on the other hand, hold the fourth-best offensive rating in the league, led by Damian Lillard and now-injured Jusuf Nurkic, who Portland has missed up front. While the Thunder may feel like they can take advantage of a Nurkic-less Blazers team, they cannot afford to look past the first round. C.J. McCollum and Lillard both can go off for Portland, as seen in Lillard’s 51 points in the Blazers’ OT loss to the Thunder on March 7. Oklahoma City has two scoring threats in Westbrook and Paul George, but each can go cold. The Thunder will have to find consistency and use its defensive prowess to upset the Blazers, but the opportunity that awaits each team in future rounds is a motivator that may cause one side to lose its focus in the first round.”
Thunder Fans — still great: It was after midnight when the team landed from Milwaukee. Thunder fans were at the airport to greet them.
Around the League: How the playoff race changed on Wednesday night…. Previewing every first round matchup…. Reaction to the first round matchups….D-Wade dropped a triple-double in his final NBA game…. Marcus Smart is out 4-6 weeks with a torn oblique…. The Pistons are in the playoffs…. How team culture combusted this season.