Not Enough Scores or Stops for Aggressive Thunder – OKC 96, UTA 113
SALT LAKE CITY – It was emotional. It was intense and it was physical. The playoff spirit filled the Thunder and the Utah Jazz in Monday’s Game 4, but that manic energy must be harnessed to be successful this time of year. For the Thunder, channeling the intensity into execution was difficult on both sides of the ball, especially after things started to get chippy.
The Thunder’s 113-96 loss to the Jazz gives Utah a 3-1 lead in this Western Conference first round series, but early on it looked like it might be a different story. Early on, Russell Westbrook busted it to get around screens at the top of the key, working with his big men to prevent Ricky Rubio from getting downhill, and the Thunder jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead. Midway through the quarter Utah’s Donovan Mitchell started to carve out creases in the defense, but Westbrook and Paul George combined for a little 6-0 burst to help the Thunder jump out to an 8-point lead to start the 2nd quarter.
Midway through that period, however, Westbrook’s aggressiveness was penalized by his third foul. The All-Star point guard had to play with less physicality on the defensive end for the remainder of the second quarter, and the Thunder’s defense in general didn’t execute as cleanly as it had in the opening period.
“It probably at that point in time maybe took away his aggressiveness a little bit on defense,” Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan said of Westbrook’s third foul.
“Things like that happen in the game. You just gotta figure out how to play with it,” Westbrook said.
The Jazz outrebounded the Thunder by five in the second quarter alone, and ripped off a 20-9 run to end the half, as Westbrook picked up his fourth foul on a charging call. A pair of Joe Ingles corner three-pointers ripped the game open to a six-point Jazz lead heading into halftime.
The hits kept coming for the Thunder to start the third quarter, as Utah scored the first 9 points of the second half on a pair of lobs to Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, two Mitchell free throws and a Rubio three-pointer. Every Thunder attempt to play catchup after that seemed to be thwarted, whether it by strong Jazz defense or missed shots. There was little luck for the Thunder from behind the arc, going 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) from deep and shooting just 39.3 percent from the field for the game.
“We’re just missing some open shots,” Westbrook said. “We’ll keep creating and getting shots for each other and go from there.”
Without much of an ability to force the Jazz to pull the ball out of the net, the Thunder struggled to get repeated stops late in the third and through the fourth quarter. After the physicality bubbled over again in the fourth and resulted in the 7th technical foul of the game and an ejection for Utah’s Jae Crowder, the Thunder cut the lead back down to 14 with 4:07 to go.
“It’s playoff basketball. It’s going to get chippy. It’s going to get physical. We’re in it for the fight,” George said.
That little bit of game pressure created a little tension in the building, but the Thunder couldn’t stay in front of Mitchell, who scored 33 points, or make enough shots on the other end to close it any further.
The clash of styles was clear in this one, with the Thunder unable to get its drive, kick, swing-swing action into the game. When the Thunder got downhill or got two defenders on the ball, it had to shoot challenged shots at the rim, or make difficult passes to the perimeter. On the other end of the floor, the Jazz was able to turn the corner more effectively and get playmaking and passing from all five spots on the floor.
“That’s been, I think, one of our team’s challenges all year long has been that kind of consistency,” Donovan said. “We do things at a really high level for a period of time, but the ability to sustain it.”
“Our guys really competed. They played hard. They gave great effort,” Donovan continued. “But we had some breakdowns defensively that hurt us and allowed them to go on a run to close out the half. We’ve gotta do a better job with that.”
It’s a quick turnaround now for both teams, with the Thunder needing to win three straight games in order to win this series, starting at home at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday night.
“We gotta win,” said forward Carmelo Anthony. “It comes down to having the will to win that game on Wednesday and forcing a Game 6 back here in Utah.”
“This is what we want. Not necessarily to be in this position, but to at this point give it all we’ve got,” George said.
Highlights: Game 4 at Jazz
By the Numbers
7 – Technical fouls in the game, which was chippy and hard fought from start to finish
21-10 – The Jazz’s edge in assists in the game, in addition to a 15-12 advantage in turnovers forced
45.1-39.3 – Differential in shooting percentages for the game in Utah’s favor, as the Thunder went just 5-of-26 from three-point range
The Last Word
“We’ll go back and regroup. This team has always been resilient and they’ve battled. They’ve worked really hard. They’ve competed and I know they’ll be excited to play.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan