(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports via Reuters/Mark D. Smith)
1 The Thunder’s success depends on where Westbrook’s fury is directed
You can debate the merits of Russell Westbrook as a basketball player – there are nights where he’s inefficient, reckless, unwilling to pass, and a tour de force that’s out of control. Game 4 was probably one of those nights, as he tried a little too hard to stop Ricky Rubio and succeeded only in getting into foul trouble himself.
However, if you take the good with the bad, you’ll get games like Game 5, where Westbrook makes the game astonishingly simple but just being more athletic than anyone else and using that to put the ball in the hoop. The Thunder needed a little of that as they reeled from three consecutive losses to be on the brink of elimination.
Westbrook was a big contributor to the Thunder’s failures in games 2, 3 and 4, but his 45 points (including 33 in the second half), 15 rebounds and seven assists were an equally big part of their win in Game 5. He probably didn’t get the Thunder’s other players involved as coach Billy Donovan would have liked (usually a barometer for the team’s success), but at this stage, a win is all that matters.
2 Utah’s defense has been key to their lead, yet it needs to improve
Nobody in Utah will be sounding the alarm bells just yet, they still have two more chances (including one at home) to close this series out. Regardless, it would have been worrying just how hot the Thunder stars were allowed to get.
After the match, Donovan Mitchell noted they’d had a bad night on defense: "We stopped playing defense, we stopped getting back," he said. "Our offense got stagnant. They made adjustments and we didn't make the right adjustments back."
The Thunder averaged 103.7 points per 100 possessions in the first four games of this series and were allowed 110.1 in Game 5. That’s a number that needs to improve over the next few games or the Jazz might let this one slip, as unlikely as it seems.
3 Playoff P finally showed up
While Paul George has been mocked for nicknaming himself “Playoff P”, we got a taste of what the man can do when he’s locked and loaded. Westbrook’s 45 points stole the show obviously, but George scored 36 at a more consistent rate to be the only other Thunder player with double-digit points.
While George hasn’t made the full-time jump from good to great player, and his playoff contributions will be forgotten if the Thunder don’t make the next round, he has nonetheless been solid, averaging 28.6 points per game this series on 45% shooting from the field and 41% from 3-point range. He has also been consistent on defense, and will need to be stopped if the Jazz want to avoid a do-or-die Game 7.
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