Utah took a 2-1 lead in their series with Oklahoma City, winning the middle two quarters of Game 3 by 22 points and coasting to a victory. Can the Jazz duplicate that effort or will the Thunder play with greater intensity and even up the series?
In many people’s eyes, Oklahoma City has been a disappointment all year. This has been especially true for Thunder backers, with their team at 36-49-2 ATS (as of 4/22) for the season. However, OKC was hardly perfectly assembled. Russell Westbrook has to have the ball in his hands to effectively score and be a ball distributor and has a tendency to dominate the orange sphere instead of keeping it moving.
Paul George and Carmelo Anthony also must have the ball in their hands to maximize their effectiveness. Since the shot clock is only 24-seconds, that does leave much time for a trio of players used to having the ball in their mitts to create. While nobody will dispute the individual talent of any of these players, getting this trio to work cohesively is a challenge.
In Game 1, Westbrook and George were extremely aggressive and Anthony did his part with a solid all-around game, which included seven defensive rebounds and leading his club in blocks and steals, to go along with 15 points. Collectively, this trio had 80 points in OKC’s 116-108 victory. In the next two contests, both Thunder losses, the three stars scored just 54 and 51 points respectively.
What changed? The Utah defense showed up and Oklahoma City became tentative, which they known for doing when everything does not run smoothly. It also hurts the Thunder that they are very thin when it comes to scoring off the bench, lacking that player or two who can win a game when others are stifled. After a strong start at Utah in Game 3, the Thunder had no answers in the middle of the game and were overwhelmed.