Oklahoma City Thunder vs Utah Jazz: Lineups, preview & prediction 4/21/18
Arguably the most intriguing of the first round matchups is all tied up at 1-1. Who can give themselves an important advantage after three games?
After losing the first game of the series, the Jazz responded on the road on Wednesday to take care of the Thunder 102-95. Donovan Mitchell was the star, scoring 13 of his 28 points in the final quarter to help his side overcome a five-point deficit heading into the last 12 minutes.
For the Thunder, the loss resulted from an inability to hit a shot when it mattered most. After earning themselves a 79-74 lead after three quarters, they shot 3-for-21 from the floor in the last, and 1-for-10 from long range.
Three keys to the game
Paul George’s shooting – George is often a feast or famine player and never has it been more clear than in the first two games of this series. In the first, he connected on 13 of his 20 field goal attempts and went 8-for-11 from long range for 36 points. The next game, he went 6-for-21 and scored just 18 points.
Utah’s interior defense – Utah have been the best defensive side in the league for several weeks now, and it’s no surprise that this has coincided with the return of Rudy Gobert. The Stifle Tower has already contributed five blocks in this series, but further to that, his ability to affect shots and stop players from even bothering to put them up in the paint is invaluable. As a result, OKC have scored just 36 points in the paint per game through the first two of the series, well down from their season average of 43.9.
The home floor advantage – The Jazz will be pleased to have swung the series in their favor by tying the Oklahoma City leg 1-1. Now, things head back to Utah, where the Jazz are 28-13 this season. In contrast, the Thunder are 21-20 on the road this season. They have, however, won their past three games outside of Chesapeake Arena.
Matchup to watch
Russell Westbrook vs Donovan Mitchell – The battle of the two players with the biggest offensive loads for their respective sides has been an intriguing one so far. Westbrook has been fairly inefficient from a shooting perspective to start the series, but he has looked after the basketball reasonably well.
He is 17-for-44 from the floor through two games, a strike rate of just 38.6%, but he has handed out 10.5 assists per game to go alongside just four turnovers – a relatively good ratio by his standards. At the other end of the floor, Mitchell has shown the regular season was no fluke. He scored 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2, and though he went 0-for-7 from beyond the arc Wednesday, he has shot 44.7% from the floor in these two games.
Utah Jazz predicted starting lineup
PG – Ricky Rubio | SG – Donovan Mitchell | SF – Joe Ingles | PF – Derrick Favors | C – Rudy Gobert
Oklahoma City Thunder predicted starting lineup
PG – Russell Westbrook | SG – Corey Brewer | SF – Paul George | PF – Carmelo Anthony | C – Steven Adams
George will bounce back in this one with a big game. Playoff P had a down Game 2, but he typically performs in the Playoffs and showed his best in the first game of the series. He has enjoyed playing against Utah in his career, averaging 20.8 points in his 14 games against them throughout his career. In these matchups, he is shooting 46.5% from the floor and 40.7% from 3-point range, and grabbing 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.1 steals.
Utah are 4.5 point favorites in this game, and they’ll be able to cover this line. They went toe-to-toe with the Thunder on the road, and at home will be an even more difficult prospect. This will be relatively close, but the Jazz will win this one by over four points.
Expect another tough grind, which will be well and truly in the balance going into the last quarter. George will bounce back to score 30+ points, recapturing his stroke and proving impossible to stop. The Jazz, however, led by Gobert, will continue their incredible interior defense, and restrict the Thunder from scoring any significant number of points in the paint. As a result, the home side will earn themselves a tough home victory, winning 102-96.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tip-off is at 10pm ET.