Oklahoma City Thunder vs Utah Jazz: Lineups, preview & prediction 4/23/18
Utah did it comfortably against the Thunder in Game 3 thanks to a Rubio triple-double. Can they do it again to give themselves a 3-1 series lead?
After Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz to victory over the Thunder in Game 2, it was Ricky Rubio’s turn in Game 3. The 27-year-old Spaniard scored 26 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out ten assists to lead Utah to victory, earning them a 2-1 series lead in the process. Mitchell, for his part, impressed again with 22 points, though he turned it over five times to go with just two assists.
For OKC, Russell Westbrook put in an uncharacteristically meek performance. Aside from allowing Rubio to score heavily, the Thunder point guard shot just 5 for 17 from the floor for 14 points, while his nine assists were almost matched by eight turnovers.
Three keys to the game
Westbrook’s performance – Unless Paul George pulls something miraculous out of the hat, the Thunder can’t beat the Jazz with Westbrook playing like he did on Saturday. The first game of the series was his best as he scored 29 points, and it’s no coincidence that this was their only win to this point. In the ensuing games he is a combined 12 for 36 from the floor and is averaging just 16.5 points.
The battle of the boards – In the past two games, the Jazz have been dominant on the boards. After winning the rebound count 56 to 46, they won it 48 to 33 on Saturday. They have grabbed a huge 28 offensive rebounds in these matches and these have led to 19.5 points a night. In contrast, the Thunder, despite having the best offensive rebounder in the business at center, have scored just 8.5 second-chance points per game in the last two matchups, and gave themselves only six such opportunities on Saturday.
3-point shooting – This is one statistic which leans heavily in the Thunder’s favor so far in this series. Both teams are taking a click over 30 3-point attempts per game, but OKC have connected on a huge 42.4 percent of these, over six percent more than Utah’s 36.3% connection rate.
Matchup to watch
Steven Adams vs Rudy Gobert – There are other players who may have a lot more impact on the game than these two, but this has been a matchup which has so far been heavily in Utah’s favor, and Adams will need to lift to get his team back into the series. Adams is averaging just 9.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, and on Saturday contributed a meager eight points and two boards in 26 minutes of action.
At the other end of the floor, Gobert, not exactly renowned for his offense, has been a big factor, averaging 15 points a night. He is also grabbing 11.3 rebounds and adding a couple of blocks to round out what has been a one-sided matchup thus far in the series.
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
Westbrook will be eager to bounce back after a couple of disappointing games, and it wouldn’t surprise to see him play an aggressive game even by his own lofty standards. Whether he can do it efficiently is another question, but expect him to take more than the 17 shots he took last game and dish out double figures in assists this time around.
Though the Thunder are a good defensive side and Utah are the best in the league, the 210-point over/under total for this game is too low. This has been a relatively high-scoring series, with games averaging 213 points, and with Westbrook sure to create a fast-paced game, this one will go over the bookies’ mark.
For all of OKC’s talent, the Jazz appear to have their measure. They did it easily at home in Game 3, despite the Thunder shooting 50% from beyond the arc, something which probably won’t happen again in Game 4.
Westbrook will come out like a man possessed in this game, and will put up a big triple-double. His performance will have a big impact on the outcome of the match, but numbers alone won’t be enough for the Thunder. He’ll need to convert at a reasonable rate and take better care of the basketball, while George will need to convert his opportunities.
OKC will get closer than the 13 points they lost by in Game 3, but will ultimately fall short of a very accomplished Jazz side. Utah will give themselves a 3-1 lead heading back to Oklahoma City with a 109-104 win.
The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT. Tip-off is at 10:30pm ET.