We are just two games into the First Round series between the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Thunder have shown fans the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. From “Playoff P” taking over Game 1 to Westbrook, George and Anthony going 0-14 in the 4th quarter of Game 2.
With the series now tied 1-1 it will shift to Utah for games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday respectively. It is vital that the Thunder split the two games in Salt Lake City, at the very least. Let’s look at the 5 most important things the Thunder need to do to walk away with a win in Game 3:
1. Starters Must Stay Out Of Foul Trouble – OKC only have Steven Adams on the floor for 22 minutes in Game 2 proved to be detrimental. Not only did it remove the top-notch rim protection that Adams offers but most importantly the Thunder just did not have anyone to battle with Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert on the glass. That pair had 31 rebounds, 13 of which were on the offensive end.
2. Set The Tone Early – Billy Donovan has been forced to call a timeout early in the 1st quarter of both games thanks to slow starts. Game 1 saw the Jazz jump to a 16-4 lead and Game 2 was an early 9-0 deficit. While OKC easily overcame both of those early obstacles, it is not something that the team can do every game. Energy is never an issue when it comes to playoff basketball but minimizing the energy you have to expend early in the game and saving that for late can prove a difference maker.
3. Westbrook Needs To Play His Game – Russell has not played his best basketball in either of the first two games, shooting a combined 17-44. Going in to the matchup with the Jazz, it was not a favorable matchup due to the interior defense of Utah. More mid-range jumpers and 3 point attempts were expected for Westbrook but it’s time to force the issue and play the type of basketball that won him an MVP. More drives to the basket, more aggressive more Russ being Russ. At the very least, Billy and the Thunder can hope to get Gobert and Favors into foul trouble.
4. Hit Their Threes – This is perhaps the most obvious key to victory but it is also the most important. I have mentioned a few times the importance and impact that Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors have on the defensive end for Utah. When on the floor they force so many possessions outside of the paint – Utah has the 5th best opponent FG% in the league but fall to 17th when it comes to opponent 3pt%. OKC was one of the worst 3pt shooting teams during the regular season but a shooting output similar to Game 1 (14-29) will all but ensure a Thunder victory.
5. Contain Everyone That Is Not A Spider – The Jazz rely so heavily on Donovan Mitchell to score for them; he was the first rookie to lead a playoff team in scoring since Carmelo Anthony in 2003-2004. Mitchell is averaging 27.5 ppg this series and there may not be much Billy Donovan can draw up to contain the rookie phenom. What the Thunder defense can do is contain the rest of the team. Ricky Rubio can not be allowed to score 22 points like he did in Game 2, Favors can not be allowed to dominate in the fashion that he did. OKC’s playoff defense has been on par with their regular season output but Utah only averaged 89.5 ppg against OKC in the regular season. They have scored 102 and 108 in the first 2 games of their 1st Round matchup.
Game 3 tips off at 9:00 PM CT. on ESPN, FSOK.