We are less than one day from the Utah Jazz facing off against the Oklahoma City Thunder. We have had a plethora of articles previewing this matchup from our writers, but it’s easy to get locked into our pro-Jazz bias—which is a good bias, btw—but a bias none the less. That’s why we reached out to our frenemies over at Welcome To Loud City—the SB Nation Thunder blog—to get their thoughts on this matchup.
R.K. Anthony of Welcome To Loud City answered our very rigorous questions about this upcoming matchup and what we can expect from the Thunder.
Mychal Lowman: When Paul George was Indiana, he was able to step up big in the playoffs. His Pacers’ teams were a thorn in the Miami Heat’s side with a team fielding George Hill, Lance Stephens, and Roy Hibbert. Will Paul George be able to take it to another level opposite Westbrook like he has in the past?
R.K. Anthony: Prior to the All Star break, George was putting up some of the best numbers of his career although he was playing in an entirely new system at a faster pace than at any time in his career. A shooting slump has brought some of those numbers down to earth, but he seems to be getting his shot back and we all know PG has a special gear he saves for the playoffs.
Mychal Lowman: That’s what a lot of Utah Jazz fans fear. They don’t want to see “Playoff P”. Even more than “Playoff P,” Utah Jazz fans fear Steven Adams. They feel like Adams seems to best Rudy Gobert often. How do Thunder fans feel about Rudy Gobert?
R.K. Anthony: As they should fear any descendant of Drogo from the continent Essos, son of Bharbo and Khal of the Dothraki?
Adams is a rim-running beast that has bested a lot of NBA centers.
Steven Adams vs Rudy Gobert will be like a clash of the Titans. A throwback to a time when big men ruled the NBA and, as far as I’m concerned, the most intriguing match-up of the first round!!
Mychal Lowman: I would agree. Our own Taylor Griffin wrote about it. It’s a clash of titans to be sure. Speaking of fear, what player on Utah’s team do Thunder fans fear the most?
R.K. Anthony: The Jazz with and without Gobert is night and day. Utah is a team that reflects the defensive mentality of their coach, Quinn Snyder, and Gobert is the anchor. Break Gobert and you break the Jazz (obviously, based on Utah’s record since late January, a thing much easier said than done). The Thunder are one of the few teams with a player like Steven Adams that can match, and possibly out-physical Gobert.
Mychal Lowman: I know a lot of Jazz fans are hoping Gobert can be the difference. Last year, Utah had to overcome the #Nightlife in LA to best the LA Clippers. What off court distractions are there in OKC that could be the eventual downfall of a young team?
R.K. Anthony: Oklahoma City’s entertainment district, Bricktown, is walking distance from the hotel the Jazz will stay at and if the Jazz find a restaurant with a buffet, they could find themselves in a “Chicken Fried Steak” induced food coma. And, of course, there is always Effie the housekeeper, at the Skirvin-Hilton.
Mychal Lowman: For the life of me, I do not understand why NBA teams still stay there. I can’t believe there’s no mention of Ted’s Cafe Escondido. What do you anticipate Billy Donovan doing to make life hard for Donovan Mitchell in this series?
R.K. Anthony: Throw different defenders at the rookie to keep him off balance as much as possible. At any given time Mitchell could see Corey Brewer, or Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Terrance Ferguson, Josh Huestis, or Alex Abrines. Brewer is a wily old vet with a plethora of tricks, Westbrook is like having the Tasmanian Devil in your back pocket, Paul George is like Paul George, Terrance Ferguson is like having a long legged spider draped all over you, and Josh Huestis is a 6’7” defensive beast with a 7’1” wingspan and a 38.5 inch max vert. Billy will keep the rook occupied.
Mychal Lowman: That is a lot of looks, but I think Donovan Mitchell will breath a lot easier without Andre Roberson out there. What weakness of Utah do you think the OKC Thunder will be able to exploit?
R.K. Anthony: The Jazz are an awesome defensive team, but at times their offense can be suspect and the Thunder have only given us glimpses of the defense they are capable of playing. The Jazz are clearly on the right track, but I think their offense is a year away from making a real serious run.
Mychal Lowman: So what’s your prediction for this series?
R.K. Anthony: Of all the first-round series, the Jazz/Thunder series is the only series the experts at CBSSports.com couldn’t unanimously agree on and the Thunder took the poll, 3-2. Throw out the season series, this is a different time and both teams have gone through changes since they played last.
The Jazz have a healthy Gobert now, and the Thunder have an entire season together to gel. The Jazz have one of, if not the best record since their loss to Atlanta, but the Thunder have the best record against the top four teams in the league. Both boast a respectable resume, but like any job opening, you have to go with experience, and the Thunder have a ton of playoff experience up and down their roster.
Oklahoma City Thunder in 6.