- Tip-off: 9:30 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
SALT LAKE CITY – How do you follow up one of the most incredible postseason come-from-behind victories in NBA history? Well in the Thunder’s case, by being honest with itself about what went right and wrong, and then go out and fight all over again.
For the Thunder, down 3-2 in this first round series against the Utah Jazz, there’s no time to reminisce about its 25-point deficit in Game 5 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and the absolute blitz it displayed over the final 8 minutes of the third quarter to tie the game and revive itself as it came away with a series-saving victory.
“Every possession can change the game," said point guard Russell Westbrook. "Certain plays in the game can change momentum. That’s what the playoffs is all about. Sticking with it.”
What the Thunder does have time to do over the 48 hours in between Game 5 and 6 is to analyze the decisions that were made and to anticipate some potential choices that will need to be made in Utah. Conditions are always in flux in the playoffs, so the Thunder’s ability to adapt in the middle of the game will be crucial.
“As a coach you always go into a game with a plan of what you want to do, but more often than not those plans change,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “You always have to make decisions for what’s best for the team at that point in time.”
“I don’t think you should go into games with just preconceived notions and ideas that this is what you’re going to do regardless,” Donovan added. “And a lot of times those decisions, you’re going off your gut. You’re going off the information you have to make the best possible decision.”
There were many factors in Game 5 that the Thunder may not be able to replicate in Game 6, including foul trouble for Utah’s twin towers of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors and incredible second-half shot making by Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
One thing the Thunder can do is continually attack downhill the way it did in order to generate those fouls and also get its primary scorers into rhythm. Despite shooting just 22-of-49 (44.9 percent) in the paint, the Thunder knows it needs to continually attack down there to put pressure on the Jazz defense.
“Both teams are fighting for deep paint shots, deep paint points, and fouls,” Donovan said. “I don’t think anybody is totally trying to settle on jump shots. I think jump shots over a series can be kind of hit or miss.”
“When the ball hits the paint it opens up a lot of different things,” Donovan continued. “It opens up offensive rebounds, it opens up kick out shots, it opens up easier baskets, it opens up fouls. I think both teams are fighting for the deep paint.”
1-on-1: Alex Abrines
The downhill drives and relentless forays into the paint are a bit of a metaphor for where this Thunder team is in the season as well. It may be an incredible challenge to go into the paint against the Jazz over and over again, but the Thunder has shown their care, resolve and heart to battle back from 25 down. Being able to come back from 3-1 down in a series is even more daunting, but with the veteran experience on hand and the talent across the board, the Thunder will give itself a chance to force a Game 7 back in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
“There’s something about these guys that gives you this hope and this optimism because they fight and they battle,” Donovan noted. “I think the chemistry and the connection they’ve had all year long in terms of trying to work and be better as a group was there.”
Thunder Notes & Quotes:
- One wrinkle the Thunder threw at the Jazz in Game 5 that may be a factor in Game 6 is the way it switched everything from the point guard through the center position in the second half. While certainly giving up some mismatches by doing that, the Thunder was able to take away some of the Jazz’s drive-kick-lob-kickout action that was previously opening up easy dunks and wide open three-point attempts. The strategy from Donovan definitely made an impact, but the team also recognized moments where their technique and communication on those switches needed to be better.
- “There were times that I thought we did a good job and then there were times where we need to clean up and do a little bit better,” Donovan said. “Certainly in the game I thought it was effective. It was helpful.”
Something the Thunder will definitely need in order to execute on the offensive end will be a relentlessness in attacking the deep paint and continuing to challenge the Jazz at the rim. The Thunder saw what foul trouble to Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors can do, so putting the pressure on at the rim will be vital. In order to get there, utilizing crushing and perfectly timed screens from Steven Adams like the team did in Game 5 usually is a big help.
- “We just had a really good approach, really good attack,” said forward Paul George. “We set up our guy for the screen and, obviously, once they sit Steve they pretty much die out on the screen with his physicality.”
- “You gotta set a good screen, but also the guards have to use screens correctly and have to take the ball and their man into areas where Steven can get a good screen,” said Donovan.