The Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder split games 1 and 2, setting up a pivotal game 3 in Salt Lake City. In a 7-game series that is tied 1-1, the winner of game 3 goes on to win the series an overwhelming majority of the time - between 70-80%, depending on where you look.
Game 3 is essentially a must-win game. Utah’s defense needs to pick up where they left off in the 4th quarter of game 2, where they held OKC’s big 3 to 0-14 from the field. Donovan Mitchell needs to find his outside shooting stroke (0-7 from 3 in game 2), and Joe Ingles needs to get his mojo back from whatever Space Jam alien stole it.
Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors need to continue their interior dominance on the glass and protect the rim like they have been all series. OKC has been settling for mid range jumpers. In game 1 they hit enough jump shots to win.
Reasons to be optimistic:
Donovan Mitchell. The kid is already a superstar, and he only wants to get better. He has been asking NBA veterans for advice on how to get better, including asking how they would guard him.
Donovan Mitchell says he’s been asking NBA vets in/out of playoffs how they would guard him as some of his prep work. #OKCatUTA— kristen kenney (@kristenkenney) April 20, 2018
Defense. Defense. Defense. Utah has a dominant defense, including elite rim protection (thank you, Rudy and Derrick). Ricky Rubio, Mitchell, and Ingles can disrupt ball handlers on the perimeter and make things more difficult for them. Even if they’re making tough shots, they’ll get tired over the course of a game (see: 4th quarter game 2). Off the bench are long, athletic defenders like Dante Exum, Royce O’Neale, Jae Crowder, etc.
Depth. Utah has a legit 10-man rotation of quality NBA players. OKC relies heavily on their starters and lacks quality bench depth - especially in the front court. If Steven Adams gets into foul trouble again, that could spell doom for OKC.
Reasons to be pessimistic:
Star power. OKC has it, Utah doesn’t - at least, not as much. Yes, Donovan Mitchell is all over the national news, ESPN, TNT, and Twitter. But on the court, he’s usually not getting superstar calls (or no-calls) the way guys like Russell Westbrook and Paul George are.
Hot shooting. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony can get hot (see: game 1, PG). When they get going, they’re hard to stop, even with good defensive pressure.
Angry-mode Westbrook. When Westbrook gets pissed off, he’s a dangerous man. He can’t be happy about losing game 2, and when he gets angry, that’s usually bad news for opposing teams. Hopefully Gobert can protect the rim from his ferocious drives.
When: Saturday, Apr. 21, 2018 •8 PM MT
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
TV: ESPN, AT&T Sports Net - Rocky Mountain
Radio: 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone
Thabo Sefolosha - knee - out for season
Oklahoma City Thunder:
Andre Roberson - knee - out for season
What to watch for:
Utah needs Jingles to produce on offense. His defense in game 2 was stellar, but his offensive production left much to be desired. Utah wins if Ingles performs well.
Westbrook and PG disappeared in the 4th quarter of game 2. Odds are they’ll come out swinging in the 1st quarter tonight. They’ll look to get hot early and apply pressure to Utah’s relatively inexperienced backcourt.
Most likely Jazz killer: Steven Adams
Steven Adams fouled out in game 2. He’ll be playing angry all game, and that means offensive rebounds, physical play, and hard screens. If he is the Jazz killer, he’s going to do it without scoring a lot of points. It will be rebounds and a lot of plays that won’t show up in the box score.
Prediction: 110-102, Utah