Thunder Basketball

OKC takes Game 1, but like Donovan said, “Game 2 will be tougher”

OKC takes Game 1, but like Donovan said, “Game 2 will be tougher”

“We didn’t do anything special,” Russell Westbrook said after Game 1. “We won a game at home.”

Typically the biggest adjustments in a seven game series come between Game 1 and 2. While the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to handle the Utah Jazz in the first game of the series, both teams have an equal share of things they can be optimistic about.

For the Thunder, perhaps the company line of being built for the playoffs has been true. The combined talents of Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony plus their individual experiences in deep postseason runs might be too much for Utah to overcome.

Star players make these games happen. An Oklahoma City franchise record 8-for-11 from three by George are the type of performances that Sam Presti envisioned when he made the trade happen back in July.

Now for the Jazz, their mantra is as simple as their rookie star Donovan Mitchell made in the postgame press conference.

“I hope he doesn’t go 8-for-11 again,” Mitchell said.

Billy Donovan was noticeably not as enthused after the game. The usually optimistic Donovan focused more on how the Thunder finished the game and emphasized that improvements needed to be made.

“Game 2 will be tougher,” Donovan said. “We need to do a better job collectively as a group in finishing games.”

He’s right. The Thunder have routinely had lapses in games they’ve controlled. The postseason can have a knack of magnifying those flaws that can plague a team in the regular season. If Oklahoma City is going to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series after Wednesday, those lapses need to be corrected.

The next day at the Thunder practice facility, Donovan was still emphasizing the improvements that needed to be made for Game 2.

“We didn’t do a great job getting back in transition,” Donovan said. “I think we gotta do a better job with our transition defense. I thought there were some times where eon some of their threes, we gave up some long rebounds, some balls that we needed to kinda corral a little bit better.”

Save for the middle of the game when George assumed “Playoff P” mode, the Thunder gave up a 16-4 run to start the game and let Utah come back down 14 in the final two minutes and cut the lead to five. The 16-4 initial run was largley due to Oklahoma City’s bad shot selection which allowed Utah —  a team who doesn’t get many fast break opportunities — to get a plethora of easy buckets in transition.

It will come down to the Thunder doing something they haven’t done much of this season — doing the little things better.

A bright spot outside of George in the Oklahoma City win was none other than Carmelo Anthony. While his shot was off for the most part, the 33-year old veteran scorer made an impact through rebounding and pesky defensive stands — also known as the little things.

“Yeah, he did a real good job,” Steven Adams said today at practice. “He was in pick-and-roll coverage. Usually we switch, but he was in pick-and-roll coverage last night. He did a good job from what I could see. I haven’t looked at any video, but he did good, mate. He did good.”

Donovan, who has said time and time again all season that one of Anthony’s biggest contributions to the team is his ability to communicate on defense, also piled on the praise for his performance last night.

“Just adjustment wise, getting him in situations where he could communicate and get his length and get his communication involved was really important,” Donovan added.

If players like Anthony are making plays like he did in Game 1 throughout the course of a game, then Oklahoma City has a lot to be optimistic about. Not only did Oklahoma City have isolated plays here and there that you see successful playoff teams make, their stars all came to play.

Again, Game 2 will be a different animal. How the Thunder respond to Utah’s scoring runs or how they bounce back from a poor shooting quarter will dictate how Wednesday will go. The talent and experience is there, it will once again come down if Oklahoma City can ride momentum, something they struggled with during the regular season.



Thunder Basketball

Brady has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder since 2016. University of Oklahoma alum class of 2014. He has worked for the Franchise since April 2018. Co-Host of the OKC-82 Podcast. Member of the Basketball Insider's Show.

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