The Utah Jazz are one win away from scoring a second first-round upset in two years. With two convincing wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder in games 3 and 4 at home, they are now up 3-1 heading into Game 5 back in OKC. The Jazz had another dominant performance with their 113-96 win in Game 4. Rookie Donovan Mitchell was outstanding as he went off for 33 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Joe Ingles remained hot from beyond the arc as he had 20 points and 5-of-11 on 3-pointers. Rudy Gobert added 16 points, ten rebounds, along with his typically strong defense.
As for the Thunder, they didn’t get much going after a good first quarter. Russell Westbrook, who came out more aggressive on the defensive end after Ricky Rubio’s huge Game 3, played himself into foul trouble and failed to get into a rhythm as a result. He finished with 23 points on 7-of-18 shooting, 14 rebounds, and just three assists. Paul George had a strong night with 32 points, but Carmelo Anthony (11 points, 5-18 FG, 0-6 3-PT FG) did not. The Thunder as a team shot a horrific 5-of-26 from beyond the arc.
Three keys to the game
Home-court advantage - It’s win or go home time for the Thunder. Luckily for them, they’ll already be at home, so they won’t have to actually go anywhere. The OKC fans are one of the loudest in the league - hence, the nickname Loud City - and they need to bring it in Game 5. The Thunder need a lot more intensity to overcome this well-drilled Jazz team, so the fans need to help fuel the team with that sort of energy.
Russell Westbrook - Speaking of energy and intensity, expect Westbrook to come out with lots of those. Russ, unfortunately, failed to channel those in a positive sense in Game 4 as he got himself into some needless foul trouble. But with the season on the line, look for Westbrook to go balls to the wall, for better or worse.
OKC defense - The Jazz offense carved apart the Thunder defense in both games in Utah. The outstanding play of Mitchell has been a significant factor in their success. But mostly, OKC’s poor defensive gameplan, particularly against the pick-and-roll, has led to their downfall on that end. Unless the Thunder make significant changes on D, chances are that this impeccably coached Utah team will continue to have their way with the Thunder.
Matchup to watch
Ricky Rubio vs Russell Westbrook - Westbrook’s guarantee to shut Rubio down didn’t exactly work like he intended. While Rubio didn’t shoot nearly as well, he still played a terrific all-around game. The Spaniard has arguably outplayed the reigning MVP in this series, but Westbrook still has a chance to make his mark in this matchup.
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
Mitchell is a special player. Despite a toe injury he suffered in Game 1, the rookie hasn’t slowed down in any way. He’s averaging 27.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.3 steals in this series, which are remarkable numbers. Gobert hasn’t been too shabby himself. The Stifle Tower has been outstanding, putting up 15 points, 11 boards, and nearly two blocks per game.
As for the Thunder, there’s no surprise who the main fantasy candidates on the team are. Although, Westbrook hasn’t had a particularly impressive in this series. Paul George has at least been productive with two 30-point games. Meanwhile, Melo has been the most consistent fantasy performer despite his poor shooting. He’s averaging an impressive three stocks (steals and blocks) in the four games.
A lot is riding on this game for the Thunder. Not only do they face elimination in front of their home crowd, but it could also be George's last game in an OKC uniform. With that extra bit of desperation in them, it won't be too surprising to see the Thunder extending this series at least one more game. Take OKC to win and cover the four-point spread.
The Thunder stave off elimination for one more game as they pick up the 105-98 win.
This game will be broadcast on NBA TV. Tip-off is at 9:30 pm Eastern.