4 min read

Wednesday Bolts: 4.18.18

Nick Gallo previews tonight’s Game 2: “The Thunder executed the game plan in a myriad of ways, and played quite well on Sunday. Plainly put, however, if the Thunder repeats the way it played in its Game 1 win over the Utah Jazz, it likely won’t win Game 2. As Head Coach Billy Donovan brought his group together for a pair of practices and a shootaround to deal with the aftermath of a victory that saw Paul George knock down eight 3-pointers and the Thunder break away in the fourth quarter. Shots going down and a timely run can cover up a lot of mistakes, however, and heading into Game 2 the Thunder are focused on cleaning up crucial areas like transition defense, long rebounds and pick-and-roll coverage. In order to take a 2-0 lead in the series, defend home court and put the pressure on the Jazz to defend their turf in Salt Lake City, the Thunder needs to hone in on what is in front of them to handle.”

Andrew Sharp & Ben Golliver (SI) discuss Playoff P: ” I’ve got to hand it to Paul George. This was a brilliant rebrand. Last year he comes in with the “Loose-lips Paul” moniker that I give him. Granted, not the world’s best nickname, but it was accurate in terms of how he was comporting himself. And this year he came back with “Playoff P,” which is an even worse nickname, but it’s even funnier. And he lived up to it. The comparisons, the what-abouts were coming if Paul George hadn’t played well and if Oklahoma City had lost that Game 1, because Indiana has looked sensation. I mean, Victor Oladipo turns in an amazing performance, gives some great podium material, talking about Dan Gilbert counting him out and saying how he doesn’t care about what the national media thinks. Oladipo was playing every card that he possibly could, right? And then Paul George responded, and give him credit for that. He played a great Game 1.”

Fred Katz on Alex Abrines helping lead the rejuvenated Thunder bench: “Donovan has played matchups with Abrines much of the year, sitting him against teams that can go at him individually and using him on nights when the group can best optimize him. Lately though, he’s played him more consistently. Abrines ran for 18 minutes during OKC’s fourth-to-last game of the season against Golden State and for 27 in the following one against Houston. “He’s made nice strides last year to this year defensively,” Donovan said. “I think that was evident…He worked really hard.” Abrines knocked in three 3s during the Thunder’s Game 1 victory over Utah, contributing to the team’s 14 of 29 performance from beyond the arc. He did his best to deter Jazz rookie Royce O’Neale, a solid shooter and his primary assignment for the night, from getting open 3-pointers. Most importantly, the Thunder won when Abrines was on the floor.”

Erik Horne on Jerami Grant/Steven Adams being able to pass out of Jazz double-teams: “Whenever there’s two defenders going to the ball, somebody’s open on the backside of the court. Grant made the right decision twice to find Alex Abrines for threes in the Thunder’s 116-108 win. It wasn’t always so simple and still isn’t completely fluid for Grant or Adams acting as the screener, who then rolls to the rim to receive the pass in those scenarios. From there, it’s about locating the open man, something that varies in difficulty depending on where Grant or Adams is positioned when they catch. Above the free throw line leaves space to see the floor. Closer to the basket means less elbow room to pivot and find open shooters.”

Brad Rock (Deseret News) on why the people of Utah shouldn’t miss The Westbrook Show: “Later, after backing down Ricky Rubio and banking a mid-range jumper, he looked to the sideline and could be seen mouthing the words, “He’s too (expletive) small.” That’s where people have a problem with the Oklahoma City guard. He’s good for TV ratings and great for OKC fans and the team. To everyone else, he’s nails on a chalkboard. Yet Jazz fans watching from afar should look beyond that when the teams meet Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and even more so when the series moves to Utah. There won’t be another player like him for, oh, a half century. It’s been that long and more since Oscar Robertson’s historic triple-double season in 1961-62. Westbrook has done it the last two years.”

Eric Woodyard (Deseret News) on Thabo Sefolosha helping the Jazz from the sidelines: “For six seasons, the Swiss-born player laid his heart and soul on the line with the Thunder as a core member of the franchise’s rise to becoming an elite organization. Sefolosha experienced everything from an NBA Finals appearance in 2012 to a pair of Western Conference finals runs in 2011 and 2014, while teaming with rising stars Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden in their younger years. Currently in his 12th season and playing with the Utah Jazz, Sefolosha is sidelined after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair an MCL injury to his right knee in January, but he’s still engaged with his current team as they take on his former squad.”

FiveThirtyEight’s latest projections give the Thunder a 10 percent chance to make the NBA Finals and a 6 percent chance of winning it all: “This forecast is based on 50,000 simulations of the rest of the season and accounts for team fatigue, travel distance to games, and home courts with higher altitudes. In forecasting the playoffs, the model also gives a bonus to teams with more playoff experience on their roster.”

The Toronto Raptor channeled his inner Russell Westbrook last night:

Lee Jenkins (SI) on the Lakers’ rebuild and their connecting to the KD/Russ Thunder: “During a nine-game midwinter losing streak, when Ball’s shot was clanking and his father was chirping, he and Kuzma talked about Oklahoma City. “Remember when KD and Russ were young, and they were 3–29,” Kuzma said of Durant and Westbrook. “This happens.” The Lakers are the rare club following the OKC model and the Miami model at the same time, developing their nucleus while dangling their cap space. “That’s the beauty of it,” Pelinka says. “Whatever the road becomes—Is it two max guys this summer? Is it one this summer and one the next? Is it splitting up the space and just growing this young core?—it’s a good road to be on.”

Around the League: The Pelicans are up 2-0 on the Blazers…. The Raptors are up 2-0 on the Wizards…. The Celtics are up 2-0 on the Bucks…. Terry Rozier and Eric Bledsoe are having a war of words…. The Pacers’ blueprint for upsetting LeBron…. The state of the Kawhi/Spurs saga and where it goes from here.