Thunder Blitzed in SLC – OKC 102, UTA 115

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

SALT LAKE CITY – On the road in the playoffs, teams often have to play nearly flawless basketball to come away with the win. In Saturday’s 115-102 loss in Game 3 to the Utah Jazz, the Thunder committed too many errors to give itself a chance in the fourth quarter.

Offensive rebounds, 13 in total for Utah, buried the Thunder into long defensive possessions, resulting in 19 Jazz second chance points. Turnovers, particularly of the live ball variety, were a problem as well for the Thunder, as 17 giveaways resulted in 15 Jazz points, including 11 fast breaks points. Those factors, on top of a stellar shooting night for the Jazz, were all far too much to overcome.

“(The turnovers) were a big factor for us,” Donovan said. “Too many where, our guys were working to get back but it’s hard to recover when you turn the ball over like that.”

“We’ve just got to take what is given. I was getting myself in trouble jumping in the air, trying to get the ball to Melo (Carmelo Anthony), other guys on the floor,” said Russell Westbrook. “Just got to stay in attack mode and read my first option and go with that.”

In the first quarter, the Thunder looked to have found something that worked. It took a few possessions to set in, but Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan changed the game in the first quarter when he elected to go small and insert Patrick Patterson for Steven Adams at the 8:00 mark. After the Thunder got into a flow with that group, it ripped off an 18-2 run to take command.

“We were in good shape there. We were playing pretty good basketball,” Donovan said. “We just gotta be able to sustain it.”

The extra spacing on the floor was boosted by the fact that Patterson knocked down a pair of three-pointers during the burst. Patterson’s presence drew Rudy Gobert away from the rim, and for at least that stretch in the first quarter, Donovan’s adjustment worked.

Turns out, the Thunder would have to play all but 10 minutes of the first half without Adams since he was saddled with 3 fouls. That meant that his physical presence was missing in the second quarter, when the Jazz answered the Thunder’s big burst with a 22-4 run of their own heading into the final stretch before halftime.

“We did a really, really good job of balancing, a lot of drives, a lot of ball movement, a lot of extra passing, kick outs and it really generated some good shots for us,” Donovan said. “And then I think we got a little bit away from some of that towards the end of the second quarter. And then the turnovers coupled with maybe settling for some jump shots kind of got them on a run to close out the half.”

A flurry of second chance opportunities resulted in 9-rebound advantage for the Jazz in the quarter, and Ricky Rubio’s shot making off the dribble was a game-changer, as he racked up 15 points in the 2nd period alone.

“He made some shots,” Westbrook said. “It was too comfortable.”

During that stretch, the Thunder switched on pick and rolls up at the top of the key instead of fighting over the screens. Soft coverage allowed for drives into the middle of the floor and helped force rotations, and eventually did the Thunder in over the long haul. Wide open shots led to 13 made three-pointers for the Jazz, 9-for-11 shooting in the mid-range and 52.5 percent shooting overall in the game.

“We left that weakside, backside open” said George.

“We tried to anticipate some passes and they skipped it and caught (Joe) Ingles for some threes,” said Donovan. “

The trend that started in the second quarter, when the Jazz outscored the Thunder by 12, kept rolling along in the third and fourth quarters despite some resistance. In fact, Donovan’s group rattled off 10 straight points early in the third quarter to take a 63-60 lead, but the Jazz quickly responded with a Donovan Mitchell three-pointer that turned the momentum back again.

Again the Thunder chipped away, pulling within 71-68, but Utah wrestled control again with a 13-2 spurt that was fueled by stifling defense and aggressive playmaking by Rubio, Mitchell and Joe Ingles, who got hot from behind the three-point line. The Jazz lead swelled to 14.

“It was a game of runs tonight,” said forward Carmelo Anthony. “They started making some shots and started taking advantage of what we were doing on the defensive end.”

A 9-2 Thunder burst to start the fourth quarter behind a pair of Paul George jumpers brought the Jazz lead back down to 7, but Utah responded with a 7-2 burst, and eventually ran the lead up to 20 points. The Thunder called off the dogs late, and will regroup heading into Monday’s Game 4.

Game 3 Highlights:

By the Numbers

9-for-11 – Shooting numbers for the Jazz on non-paint two’s, part of a 52.5 percent shooting night

19-8 – Utah’s advantage in second chance points in the game, aided by a plus-15 rebounding edge and 13 offensive boards

33 – Points scored by the Thunder off of 19 Jazz turnovers, yet the Thunder scored just 4 fast break points

The Last Word

“Now it is about really making those adjustments for Game 4. Game 4 is going to be a test who we are as a team. I think we look forward to these types of challenges.” – forward Carmelo Anthony


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