Win it Possession by Possession – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC vs. UTA Game 5
By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
This isn’t where the Thunder thought it would be heading into a Game 5 at home against the Utah Jazz, with its back against the wall. Needing to win the next three games of the series in order to advance is obvious, but it’s more of a matter of how those games are won, starting with this first one on Wednesday night.
“Playoff games are won each possession,” point guard Russell Westbrook said.
“We just have to play the full 24 seconds. There’s no shortcuts around it,” said forward Paul George. “We just gotta stay solid throughout the whole shot clock.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 25, 2018
On road in Salt Lake City, the Thunder didn’t get the job done of regaining home court after abdicating it in Game 2 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder still has a chance to wrestle that game back on the road on Friday, but to even generate that as a possibility, it must control emotions and momentum for all 48 minutes in Game 5. Within the course of the game against the feisty, flowing Jazz, there are inevitable tasks the team will encounter. How the players harness their brimming energy into the execution of their duties on the defensive end will be key.
“There’s things that you’re not going to escape,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “Every team’s got to deal with pick-and-roll coverage. Every team’s got to deal with transition defense. Every teams’ got to deal with blocking out. Every team’s got to deal with rotations.”
“We gotta be able to certainly handle them driving the ball and getting help when help needs to get there,” Donovan continued. “When we’re in rotations, keeping those guys off the backboard is something that we’ve got to do. And the biggest thing defensively for us has been the consistency part, staying with it for long stretches.”
In the series, as Donovan alluded, the Thunder has suffered on the glass by allowing the Jazz to win the battle on the glass by six rebounds per game, which has led to 16.5 second chance points per game. By getting into the teeth of the defense, the Thunder has also given up 46.5 percent shooting to Utah, and 47 points in the paint per game.
Those numbers will need to be flipped upside down in Game 5 in order for the Thunder to come away with a victory and extend the series. Despite struggling with consistency issues throughout the season, leaders like Westbrook are confident in the Thunder’s experience, talent and ability to come together as a unit.
“I have confidence in our group of guys in our locker room like I always have all season long,” Westbrook said.
“Just take it one game at a time. That’s it,” Westbrook added. “Go out and compete.”
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Thunder Notes & Quotes
- Despite the loss in Game 4, the Thunder actually did show glimpses of why there’s confidence heading into this next matchup. During the first quarter and into the second quarter, the Thunder controlled Utah’s pick-and-roll game by utilizing expert coordination between the guards and the bigs on the back side of the coverage. By getting back in front of the ball and denying a pass to the roll man, the Thunder was able to force some desperation shots late in possessions. That defensive stamina didn’t maintain throughout the game, but the Thunder at least has a blueprint for Game 5.
- “Just using our length, our size,” Westbrook said. “Just gotta be able to do that for 48 minutes.”
- "It ain’t so much what we haven’t done," said Steven Adams. "It’s just consistency of doing it."
- While there are a variety of wrinkles that Donovan has tried and can continue to go to like utilizing Patrick Patterson more and putting Raymond Felton out there with Westbrook in a two-point guard lineup, the Thunder also got a glimpse of Josh Huestis late in Monday’s loss. Huestis, who was in and out of the rotation during the season, has a nice size-length-quickness profile to be helpful on the defensive end. If the Thunder needs defense in Game 5, Huestis is a possibility in the rotation.
- “The time he was in there, he did a good job,” Donovan said of Huestis. “He’s got length. He’s a good defender. I thought he was a positive.”