Alex is a community content contributor to The Five By 5 and an avid Utah Jazz fan.
Man, what a series. This was one of the better playoff series the NBA has had so far this year. All six games of this series were good and a lot of fun to watch (other than game 5 if you’re a Jazz fan). Both teams played hard, and both teams did not go down without a fight. Westbrook showed why he was last year’s MVP in the two wins that OKC had, and Donavon showed the NBA why he is a future Superstar-in-the-making in the four wins for the Jazz.
Let’s go through the ups and the downs for both teams and address how Utah got each of their four wins.
The Bad for Utah:
The bad for the Utah Jazz. In the two loses the Jazz had in this series, they struggled to keep Russ and Paul in check. In Game 1, Paul George was lights out from 3, making 8 of 11 from deep. He ended the night with 36 points and it seemed like he couldn’t miss, going 13 of 20 from the field. Russell had himself a good game too, just barely missing out on a triple double, but ending the night with 29 points, 8 assists, and 13 rebounds. Utah couldn’t get anything going for themselves, and just did not have a good Game 1. That’s understandable as it was Game 1, they hadn’t played each other since December, and it can be hard to be ready for team like the Thunder.
In Game 5, Utah had a 25 point lead at one point. Just when you thought Utah was going to kick the crap out of them, OKC came back and won that game. Russell Westbrook had himself an MVP-level game with lots of help from Paul George to pull out the W. Westbrook ended the night with 45 points, 7 assists, and 15 rebounds. He shot the ball really well; shooting 55.6% from 3 and 43.6% from the field. He was outstanding in the second half. Paul George had a great game himself, ending the night with 34, 2 and 8. Utah simply had no answer for them.
In fact, from the Jazz standpoint, it was an epic meltdown. Though Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles were on fire from deep, and Jae had himself a breakout game; by the second half it seemed like both of them forgot how to play, and neither of them could shoot. They ended the game shooting a combined 14 of 30, but it felt much worse than that when considering how much they cooled off from their hot shooting first half. . To make things worse; Gobert and Favors were in foul trouble for most of the second half, which allowed Russell to get going in the paint. Normally, Russ has a hard time attacking when Rudy is in the game, so with him in foul trouble and not playing, it made it easy for Westbrook to score in the paint and do his thing.
In the second half, the Jazz lost their lead and their touch on both ends of the court. They could not get their offense rolling despite all efforts on Coach Snyder’s part. The defense without Favors and Gobert in the game was not good and there’s just not much you can do to stop Westbrook from playing like an MVP.
The Bad for OKC:
OKC did not play all that good all series. Sure, they had two pretty good wins and they had great games from George and Westbrook, but the games in which they lost, they lost badly. The team as a whole did not play as well and they had problems throughout their entire game. Steven Adams was in foul trouble in 3 out of the 4 loses, and when Adams goes out, the Jazz can get into the paint and score in a way that OKC has no real answer for. Rebounding is a problem too when Adams goes out. In Game Two, Favors had a great game rebounding the ball ending with 16 rebounds with 8 offensive rebounds, simply because Adams wasn’t in the game for most of that time. Adams is their main paint protector and rebounder, so much so that it’s hard for OKC to do much without their big man in the game.
The next bad thing for OKC was Mitchell. Mitchell played like an All Star in the four Utah wins and they had no answer for him in Game 2 and Game 6. Game 2 right at the end of the 3rd quarter, just when OKC started their run and had a 10 point lead, Mitchell scored 7 straight points and cut the lead to 3. He then lead the Jazz to victory, ending the night with 28 points and despite going 0 for 7 from the 3, scoring 20 second half points. Game 6, Mitchell game out to start the second half with straight FIRE. That man could not be stopped for the 3rd quarter and just could not miss. Even with Rubio out, Utah was ready to go with Mitchell. He ended the night with 38 points - it was a great game from him.
Another big problem OKC had was Melo. Melo was not himself at all this series. He just did not match up with the size and speed of the Jazz and could never get going in any game. His total +/- in all six games was a -47. Game 3 was the worst with -20. Though Melo did go into ISO mode and while he did have some ok moments of scoring, it only ever lasted a few minutes of the game. Then he would drop off and never scored much in the second half in each game. Clearly, OKC’s Big 3 did not really workout all that well, with Melo being the odd man out. Too old to be trying to do ISO each time down the court, and too proud to play team defense (or any defense at all).
The Good for Utah:
There is so much good to talk about for the Jazz that the list could be really long, but I will do my best to keep it short. Donovan Mitchell was the best player in the series between both teams. The Rookie was unstoppable, in fact, he did not act like he was the rookie at all. He played like a 10 year vet and came up big in Games 2 and 6. Both games the Jazz needed him and he answered the call. Mitchell broke the Jazz rookie scoring record twice; the second time being breaking his own record by scoring 38 points in Game 6. Another Game 6 hero was Alec Burks. He came to play, scoring 11 beautiful points, and was the spark the Jazz needed to close out the Thunder in that game.
The next good thing was Favors. His consistency in each game was one of the reasons OKC could not score in the paint and he was a huge factor on defense. The best play from him was when he made a jump shot to give us a 3 point lead with just 1 minute to go in the game.
Speaking of defense, Gobert was a beast on defense and was the big reason why Westbrook and others dared not go down in the paint because of the fear of getting their shot blocked. It’s very important that Gobert was in the game, and we can see why because the numbers speak for themselves; Utah plays way better with him in the game.
To his credit, Joe Ingles was one of the better plus minus players for the Jazz and even though some nights he did not put up big numbers in the box score, he was playing good team basketball. Let’s not forget that Rubio had a triple double in Game 3 and shot the ball pretty well all series long. Like Coach Snyder said, “the strength of our team is our team.” That was true all year and especially in the playoffs.
The good for OKC:
Well, there’s not much to say here to be honest. OKC on paper had the better talented team and in the two wins it showed. When it comes to Westbrook, he was last year’s MVP for a reason and he played like one in Game 5. When he wants too, he can get to the paint with ease and no one can stop him (though Gobert can help deter him). He is so fast and he’s built like a tank that you can’t do too much to stop him. He had his best game in Game 5 with a MVP stat line 45 points, 7 assists, and 15 rebounds.
Paul George was the second best player from both teams and was the hardest player for the Jazz to stop all series outside of Game 6. Paul George came in to the playoffs saying that shooting the ball felt funny, but thank goodness for Thunder fans, that didn’t seem to bother him in the playoffs. Without Paul, the Thunder easily go 0-4. Paul was a big factor on why the Thunder won 2 of those games and why the Thunder were close in each game.
This Jazz team is really good. On paper it should have been a harder series. On paper this Jazz team had no real shot at winning any games, and absolutely no business going to the second round. On paper, there should have been no chance of holding the league MVP, All Star Paul George, and an aging Carmelo. Throughout this year, this Jazz team was doubted of really going anywhere and thought of as enduring a rebuild year. This 6 game series was a hard fought series win for the Jazz. It seemed that it was never hard for them to win four games.Even when all hope seemed lost, (at least for a minute) after Game 5, they came out in Game 6 with a plan and as a team and didn’t let the Game 5 loss hurt their spirits at all.
Though young and not all that experienced in the playoffs, this team played as a team, with each player playing for the team and not for themselves. This Jazz team played to win games and not to pad stats. They made it exciting for all Jazz fans, and we can’t wait to support them this coming season. What a series.
Mitchell & Company: desseretnews.com
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