Tuesday Bolts: 4.16.19
Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s Game 2 in Portland: “More field goal attempts, more points in the paint, more fast break points and transition opportunities, more bench points and more points off turnovers. The formula was there for the Thunder in Game 1 against the Portland Trail Blazers. The shot-making wasn’t. If Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club can maintain it’s identity from Sunday and get a few more shots to drop on Tuesday, the Thunder could be heading back to Oklahoma City with a 1-1 split in this opening round playoff series. Despite winning all the battles on the margins that it must in order to win games and holding Portland to just 41.9 percent shooting, the Thunder itself shot just 39.8 percent from the field including 5-of-33 from three and 4-of-12 in transition in the Sunday loss. In a way, the numbers paint a rosy picture for Game 2 in the Rose City. “We played a good game. We missed shots that we made all year. They just didn’t go down for us,” forward Paul George said. “The home team did what they were supposed to do – go out and win the first game on their floor. It’s about adjustments. So we’ll adjust and we’ll be ready for tomorrow’s game.”
Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on the Thunder needing tweaks — not an overhaul — to win Game 2: “Westbrook distributed well and the Thunder was able to shoot 56 percent in the paint. Dennis Schroder, Jerami Grant and Westbrook won’t likely go 0-of-14 from 3 again. “We didn’t make shots, and it cost us,” said George, who took the blame after a 4-of-15 night from 3. “A lot of the good looks I had, that’s what today was for, to get a better rhythm, better flow.” If only OKC had Felton’s rhythm. On Monday, from his seat, Felton steadied himself and flicked up a shot. For the third time in a row, it went in, sending the team into hysterics. The Thunder is what it is at this point: A below-average shooting bunch that struggles to score at every level. That’s another Sam Presti problem to address in the offseason. Rather than an entire schematic overhaul on Tuesday, though, the Thunder could use more defensive focus to start and a little more shooting touch throughout. “
Brett Dawson (Athletic) on the need for Paul George (and his shoulder) to bounce back in Game 2: “Oklahoma City’s offense is built around Russell Westbrook and George creating shots for themselves and others. George’s long-range shots — the ones he hits off the dribble, coming off screens and off Westbrook’s drive-and-kick attacks — are a foundational piece of that blueprint. In the 39 regular-season games when George made at least 40 percent of his 3-pointers, the Thunder were 28-11. In the 10 games he shot 30 percent or worse from 3-point range, OKC was 10-11. It’s only logical that a team plays better when its best 3-point threat connects, and when the Thunder’s offense goes south, it’s typically due to more than just 3-point shooting. But for a team that’s limited from long range — Westbrook and George have the ball more than anyone, and teams increasingly sag off Westbrook and dare him to shoot 3-point shots — George’s shots from distance are critical. If he’d made them on Sunday — if anybody had — the Thunder probably would have stolen Game 1.”
Rohan Nadkarni (SI) on PG’s shoulder being the most important body part in OKC: “George is the Thunder’s most important player. He overtook Westbrook this season thanks to his two-way dominance. Westbrook’s inefficiency prevents him from being a clear-cut, tier-one superstar. George was pushing through that barrier for much of the season, and now, apparently barely able to lift his shoulder above his head, he’s supposed to be leading OKC in the postseason. The first round will be its own battle, but even if the Thunder somehow manage to survive, if they want to put any kind of scare into the West’s elite, they desperately need George to regain his midseason form. Simply put, OKC is in dangerous straits against Portland with PG at less than 100%. And the Thunder will have a tough time putting a scare into the conference elite if they manage to advance and George still isn’t playing well. His Game 1 shooting performance did not bode well for OKC’s chances. PG shot 8-of-24 from the field and only 4-of-15 from three. (The silver lining? The Thunder lost a close game despite George and Westbrook combining to shoot 16-of-41 from the field. OKC as a team isn’t likely to shoot only 15.2% from three all series, and hitting six less threes than your opponent in a five-point loss is in its own way weirdly encouraging.)”
Dan Favale (B/R) on Jerami Grant as the Thunder’s playoff x-factor: “The Thunder appeared to turn a corner in the middle of the season, but the sweet shooting didn’t stick. They’re 25th in three-point accuracy since the All-Star break and still lag behind in catch-and-shoot efficiency. George’s rut hasn’t helped. He’s shooting 33.6 percent from beyond the arc since the break. Only two players on the Thunder are nailing 35 percent or more of their long balls during this time: Grant and Raymond Felton. So, um, yeah. Grant’s drastic improvement from downtown was always big—huge, even. Now it’s necessary. Without him banging in threes at an above-average clip, the Thunder become irrationally dependent on George to drain contested bombs. Oh, and don’t forget about the Grant-can-guard-every-position thing. That matters, too.”
Shameless Self-Promotion — my five thoughts on Game 1 (posted late last night): “If you’re looking for the silver lining (which I promised), it’s that OKC was in this game in the fourth quarter, had a chance to steal it after being down huge, and came up short because the ball wouldn’t go in. That’s going to happen sometimes, but it bodes well for the Thunder’s chances moving forward (assuming they don’t shoot 15% from three again). Damian Lillard said it best after the game, “I don’t think it was anything we did.“
Around the League: The Clippers came back from a 31-point deficit to even the series with Golden State…. DeMarcus Cousins looks to be done for the season…. Ben Simmons led the Sixers to a 1-1 split with the Nets…. Zion officially declared for the NBA Draft…. The Kings officially hired Luke Walton…. Dirk Nowitzki thinks he could coach in a few years.