Utah Jazz vs Oklahoma City Thunder: Lineups, preview & prediction 4/18/18
The Jazz and Thunder could have to make do without their respective stars when they collide for Game 2 in OKC.
The Oklahoma City Thunder brought the thunder in Game 1 against the Utah Jazz with an impressive 116-108 win. Paul George transformed into “Playoff P” as he went off for a career playoff-high 36 points and eight 3-pointers. The rest of their Big 3 came through, with Russell Westbrook (29 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists) and Carmelo Anthony (15 points, seven boards, three steals, two blocks) both coming up big. However, the big concern for the Thunder will be the availability of PG-13, who is dealing with a hip injury and remains questionable for Game 2.
The Jazz have their big injury concern of their own with Donovan Mitchell suffering from a bruised toe. The rookie came up huge in his playoff debut as he led the way with 27 points and ten rebounds. Rudy Gobert chipped in with 14 points and seven boards while Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles added 13 points apiece. Dante Exum and Alec Burks both had ten points in limited minutes, but they could be thrust into a bigger role if Mitchell misses out.
Three keys to the game
Star players’ availability/effectiveness – The availability of both Mitchell and George is crucial for both teams. And even if both play, just how effective they can be despite their injuries. The Jazz’s reliance on their rookie is more pressing. Mitchell is their leading scorer by a significant margin, and they will face a dramatic drop-off without him. George’s absence would also be a huge blow, but at least they have two other stars in Westbrook and Anthony who can step up and take on a bigger load on offense.
Supporting casts – If Mitchell and/or George fail to show up, the spotlight will be on the supporting players to step up and help carry the load. For the Jazz, that means the likes of Ingles, Exum, and Burks. As for the Thunder, Abrines and Brewer will need to take on more shots in George’s absence. But obviously, the Jazz players will need to do more to compensate for Mitchell’s offense.
Jazz adjustments – Jazz coach Quin Snyder is a good tactician, and he’ll have his work cut out for him making adjustments after Game 1. He obviously must shore things up defensively and avoid getting into another shootout with OKC. Meanwhile, he must consider what to do with Favors. Melo outplayed him in Game 1 as Favors finished with a team-worst minus-12. Utah may have to consider going smaller to match up better with the Thunder.
Matchup to watch
Ricky Rubio vs Russell Westbrook – If Mitchell misses out, the responsibility will be on Rubio to up his game offensively. He finished second to Mitchell in terms of shot attempts in Game 1, but went just 5-of-18 from the field. The same goes for Westbrook if George is out.
Jazz projected starting lineup
PG – Ricky Rubio | SG – Donovan Mitchell | SF – Joe Ingles | PF – Derrick Favors | C – Rudy Gobert
Thunder projected starting lineup
PG – Russell Westbrook | SG – Corey Brewer | SF – Paul George | PF – Carmelo Anthony | C – Steven Adams
Despite his rough shooting game, Rubio filled the stat sheet in Game 1 with 13 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and four steals. He’ll get a heavier workload if Mitchell is out. Mitchell’s possible absence could also benefit Ingles, Exum, and Burks.
As for the Thunder, Brewer and Abrines will probably see more playing time if George is out. Abrines had a promising Game 1 as he had three 3-pointers in 21 minutes. Anthony could also get a handful more shot attempts to make up for George’s absence. Melo filled the stat sheet with 15 points, seven boards, three steals, and two blocks.
Much like they have for much of the year, the Thunder turned it on against a top opponent in Game 1. OKC just have this next level they can reach, in part because they have the stars who can play at an entirely different level like George just did. Even if he is hobbled, George will probably give it a go for Game 2. But if Mitchell is in any way limited by his toe injury, if he plays at all, the Jazz are in trouble. That’s why the Thunder are the pick to win and cover as four-point home favorites.
The Thunder take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series with a 108-100 win over the Jazz.
This game will be broadcast on NBA TV. Tip-off is at 8:00 pm Eastern.