Thunder Tunes Up for Utah
Date: March 11, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Thunder StatusThe Thunder wrapped up a three-game road sweep on the East Coast with wins over Detroit, New York and most recently, Boston. In that game, the Thunder overcame an 18-point deficit to put itself in a position to win in the final minutes. Even then, the Thunder’s win wasn’t sealed until the final buzzer sounded.
A steal and layup from Dennis Schröder put the Thunder ahead by one point with 8.5 seconds remaining in the game. What happened next was a lockdown defensive effort from Chris Paul who matched up with Jayson Tatum for the final seconds. The 13-year veteran didn’t allow an inch for Tatum to back him down and as a result, forced a tough contested jumper that fell short.
The Thunder now sits at fifth in the Western Conference standings with an opportunity to move up to fourth on Wednesday against the Jazz. However, the focus in the Thunder locker room isn’t on potential playoff implications; it’s on the task at hand and using each day to get better as a team.
“There’s 18 games left, a lot can happen,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “I’ve always believed you’re better off putting your time, energy and focus on things that you have control over. As a group, we control how we play and practice those are the things we can influence. We can’t influence what other teams are doing.”
Opponent BreakdownSitting one spot above the Thunder in the Western Conference Standings is the Jazz at fourth. The Jazz enters into Chesapeake Energy Arena after a loss at home against the Raptors after winning five straight. Wednesday’s game marks the third matchup of the season between the Jazz and the Thunder with the series split 1-1 and the Thunder winning the most recent tilt which was back in December.
The Jazz thrive from the perimeter with several players shooting at a clip of 40 percent or higher. Included in that mix is Bojan Bogdanovic who is second in scoring for his team with 20 points per game.
Inside the arc, the Thunder will look to defend and limit options from Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert in pick and roll actions. The craftiness of Mitchell to split screens coupled with his ability to shoot from deep makes communication a huge key for Thunder big men guarding the screen. Gobert also leads the league this season in total screen assists.
“Steven’s got to be up because of Mitchell’s shooting ability. So, the guards have got to do a better job getting over the screen, getting back in front as fast as possible,” Thunder guard Dennis Schröder said.
Matchup FocusUtah’s spark off the bench, Joe Ingles led all Jazz players with 20 points on 4-8 shooting from behind the arc in the Jazz’s game against the Raptors. As a lefty, Thunder perimeter defenders will be locked in on closeouts to keep him from getting to the left side of the floor while also contesting his looks from behind the arc.
“He’s a very, very good playmaker and he makes the right play,” Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari said. “He’s a pass-first guy and his 3-point shot is very good, so he has a lot of weapons offensively.”
Stat to WatchThe Jazz are second in the league in 3-point percentage with Bogdanovic leading the way with three triples per game on 41 percent shooting. Mitchell trails right behind him with 2.5 per game on 36 percent. For the Thunder, it will look to implement the same competitiveness and defensive intensity illustrated in its win over Boston on Sunday. In that game, the Thunder allowed 10 3-pointers in the first half, but only three in the second. Pursuit over ball screens, high-hand contests and communication in transition will be key on Wednesday as it was on Sunday.
“We’ve just go to keep doing what we did with the Celtics especially with Utah the way that they move the ball from side to side,” Gallinari said. “We have to be ready on the weak side first and then be able to close out to shooters too.”
Thunder TrendAs illustrated in its game against Boston, the Thunder is no stranger to crunch time situations. In fact, since Thanksgiving the Thunder is 25-5 in games within five points in the last five minutes. OKC’s ability to remain poised and not panic in the face of adversity has allowed the Thunder to remain successful in close games and lead the league in clutch wins this season.
“They understand that there’s going to be these ebbs and flows and these good and bad moments in games and how quickly you can work through them becomes really important on the road and I think we’ve done a really good job of that,” Donovan said.