Thursday Bolts: 4.26.18
Nick Gallo recaps last night’s 25-point comeback win in Game 5: “If the Thunder’s ball was against the wall heading into Game 5 at home, down 3-1 in the series, then it was slowly sinking into the mortar midway through the third quarter when it trailed the Utah Jazz by 25 points. The Thunder faithful didn’t leave. The players looked each other in the eye. Everyone made a choice, together. They were going to go all out, leaving it all on the court, no matter the result. What they got out of it was the third-biggest comeback in NBA playoff history, using a 32-7 run to end the third quarter on its way to a magical 107-99 victory. “It was one of those nights where obviously our bench, our crowd, everyone here in Oklahoma was behind us,” said point guard Russell Westbrook. We needed every bit of it tonight and our guys stepped up and made big plays.”
Royce Young on Russell Westbrook & Paul George leading the Thunder’s comeback charge: “It was sometime during the comeback, maybe after one of the pendulum-swinging 3-pointers, or after a bulldozing drive at the rim — it all happened so fast it’s kind of hard to remember– but Russell Westbrook bounced back down the court and side-eyed the Utah bench. “Not tonight,” he told them. “Not tonight.” Westbrook was the spark that lit an improbable fire, the Oklahoma City Thunder overcoming a 25-point second-half deficit to shock the Utah Jazz 107-99 in Game 5. Westbrook finished with 45 points on 17-of-39 shooting, with Paul George adding 34 on 12-of-26. No other Thunder player was in double figures. “It was one of those nights where obviously our bench, our crowd, everyone here in Oklahoma was behind us,” Westbrook said. “We needed every bit of it tonight and our guys stepped up.”
Shaun Powell (NBA.com) on the Thunder flashing superteam strength: “Shots fell, passes fell into the right hands and their own basketball was protected. It was a swift blizzard of OKC basketball that escalated and never slowed until the buzzer sounded. And there was nothing the Jazz did to prevent this series from being extended. The composure and pride of a superteam assembled last summer to contend for a title came together and in the nick of time, allowing the Thunder to save face and their basketball lives for at least another game. “This series has been about momentum changes,” Westbrook said, “and tonight was our turn.” How did suspense suddenly creep into a series in which the Jazz controlled and held in their overachieving hands? First, Rudy Gobert got into foul trouble in the third quarter and the change was what you’d expect. Westbrook and George refused to sit the entire second half as Westbrook scored 33 of his 45 points in that span as the duo led the fourth-largest playoff comeback in NBA playoff history.”
Paolo Ugetti (Ringer) on how the Thunder completed the comeback to force Game 6: “OKC’s smartest move in this elimination game was getting Rudy Gobert in foul trouble. The Jazz were up 10 late in the third quarter when Gobert picked up his fifth foul and had to exit the game. It was like the Melo effect in reverse. The Thunder were able to penetrate far more often, and George was able to dash to the rim like a reindeer with new life. ll series long, Gobert sent Russ descending into madness, with Westbrook flailing at the rim unable to finish or settling for bad jumpers. Mitchell led the scoring surge for the Jazz in games 1 through 4, but Gobert was poised to be the reason they were going to win in five games. Foul trouble was his kryptonite, and by the time he returned to the game with eight minutes left, the Thunder had earned a one-point lead. If you can’t go around the best defender in the league, try taking him out.”
Dan Devine (Yahoo Sports) on Westbrook saving the season in the second half: “The NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player took responsibility for saving OKC’s season into his own hands and he pulled it off, bum-rushing the Jazz by combining with All-Star running buddy Paul George to score 32 points over the final 8:34 of the third quarter — a career-single-quarter-high 20 for Westbrook, 12 for George — to completely erase Utah’s 25-point lead and head into the final frame all square at 78. The two stars kept the pressure on in the fourth quarter, routinely breaking down Utah’s perimeter defense to get into the lane, get to the foul line, or work their way into open jumpers that they just would not stop canning… After days of taking slings and arrows from media members and fans for following up his post-Game 3 insistence that he’d “shut [Ricky Rubio’s] s— off” by getting blown out in Game 4, Westbrook turned in one of the most amazing halves of his career, drilling five 3-pointers after intermission and scoring 33 of his 45 points (to go with 15 rebounds and seven assists) to completely take control of the game and bring the Thunder back from the brink.”
Erik Horne on Alex Abrines stepping up big defensively: “Abrines played 25 minutes Wednesday in the Thunder’s 107-99 win, 10 coming in a critical fourth quarter in which his defense was as valuable as his offense. Abrines’ physical effort on Jazz center Rudy Gobert on the glass drew a critical fifth foul on the Jazz big in the third quarter, coinciding with the Thunder’s rallying run. When Abrines came off with 1:33 left in the fourth quarter, Corey Brewer came in and held him for an elongated hug. The Thunder was 18 points better than the Jazz with Abrines on the floor. “I told him ‘Great. Great. You did great tonight,’” Brewer said. “He was amazing. He played great ‘D,’ kept Mitchell in front of him. He did everything he needed to do for us to get a win.”
Scott Polacek (B/R) on Donovan Mitchell taunting Thunder fans after the Thunder’s comeback win: “Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook willed his team to a 107-99 victory in Game 5 of its first-round playoff series, but Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell believes that was the last time the fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena will have the chance to see the defending MVP this year. As Gabe Ikard of The Franchise Sports in Oklahoma City shared, it appeared as if the rookie told the Thunder fans “We’ll see y’all next year” while leaving the floor Wednesday.”
Rohan Nadkarni (SI) on how the inquisition of Russell Westbrook will have to wait: “Westbrook finished with a purely Westbrookian stat line—45 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 17-of-39 shooting—and when asked to save his team’s season, he did exactly that. The narrative on Westbrook has certainly been exhausting over the last two seasons. But the playoffs should serve as a referendum on the NBA’s best players. It’s not necessarily about who is clutch or who is truly a “winner.” What the playoffs can reveal is a player’s true ceiling. With an objectively better supporting cast than last season, Westbrook’s martyr act wasn’t going to work for another year. The Thunder are far from out of the woods, and a loss in Game 6 will invite the questions Wednessday almost did about how far OKC can go with Russ as its best player. But Westbrook, with a gutsy performance, absolutely earned his stay of execution.”
The Cinematic Story of Game 5: Via OKCThunder.
Around the League: LeBron James buzzer-beat the Pacers in Game 5…. Victor Oladipo wasn’t a fan of the officiating…. Toronto went up 3-2 on the Wizards…. The Rockets advanced past Minnesota, 4-1…. The Hawks and Mike Budenholzer have parted ways…. The unsung heroes of the Boston Celtics.