Despite a terribly slow start to the game, the Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a 116-108 win over the visiting Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the first round of the Western Conference Quarterfinals on Sunday night.
Oklahoma City was loud and excited to kick off the game as Russell Westbrook threw down a monstrous dunk to kick off the scoring in the game, but it was Utah who would have the hot start.
Following Westbrook’s dunk, the Jazz scored the next 11 points in the game, and they took a 16-4 lead with a little under seven minutes left in the period. At that point, “Playoff P” version of Paul George kicked in as he knocked down a three to get Oklahoma City scoring again. The Thunder would rip off a 12-0 run to tie the game up at 16-16, and after some back and forth basketball, Oklahoma City and Utah were tied up at 25-25 after the first quarter.
Oklahoma City wasted no time in the second quarter as they jumped out in front on the first possession of the period. Utah would score on the next possession to take the lead, but the Thunder would score again to take a lead that they would hold for the rest of the half. Paul George led the Thunder in scoring with 20 points at the half, Russell Westbrook poured in 14 points to go along with eight rebounds and two assists, and despite not scoring in the second quarter, Carmelo Anthony had nine points, five rebounds, two assists, and two steals at halftime to give the Thunder a 54-48 lead.
The third quarter went about as good as Oklahoma City could have hoped for considering the track record coming out of halftime in the regular season. Despite Utah’s best efforts, the Thunder was able to maintain the lead, stretching it to as many as 11 points on multiple possessions, but Paul George stayed hot as he scored 11 more points making 3/4 shots from three to set a Thunder record for most threes in a playoff game.
Russell Westbrook pitched in with seven points, and Corey Brewer finally hit some shots to add in five of his own, and with only twelve minutes of basketball left to play, Oklahoma City was on top of Utah 81-72.
Oklahoma City continued the strong play in the final period of the game, and with only 3:20 left, the Thunder held the largest lead of the night at 109-91. Less than a minute later, Jazz head coach Quinn Snyder cleared the bench and subbed out his starters, but Utah’s second unit was not content with rolling over and call it a game. The Jazz were able to pull the game to within six with under a minute to go, but Oklahoma City’s efficiency from the free throw line helped the Thunder maintain the lead and close out the game on top.
3 Quick Thoughts
- Free Throws Are Clutch: In the final four games of the regular season, the Thunder saw some vast improvement in free throw shooting, an area where they had struggled all season long. Tonight, the officials were content with allowing a lot of physical contact, so not as many fouls were called, but Oklahoma City started off knocking down their first 15 free throw attempts of the game. In a desperate attempt to close the scoring game, Utah was forced to foul Oklahoma City in the final minutes, and the Thunder missed a couple of attempts in the process, but in the end, they still managed to shoot 20/23 (87.0%) from the charity stripe. This is the type of consistency that can keep Oklahoma City in close games, and these types of performances could not have come at a better time.
- Playoff P is Real: A lot of talk has been going around about Paul George “flipping the switch” come playoffs, and in the first few minutes, it did not look like that was going to happen. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, George went on a tear as he played the part of the best player on the court tonight. George finished with 36 points, the most points ever by a player in his Thunder playoff debut, while shooting 13/20 (65.0%), including a scorching 8/11 (72.7%) from three. Towards the end of the game, George was dealing with some muscle tightness in his back, so that will be monitored moving forward, but if he can manage a few more performances like he put together tonight, Oklahoma City will be in a good spot moving forward.
- A Lot to Clean Up: Despite picking up a win tonight, the Thunder has a number of areas to improve before Game 2 on Wednesday. Steven Adams was not very effective until the second half, and just as he was able to start making some noise, he appeared to injure his hand as he threw down a violent dunk. Hopefully he will be okay for Wednesday. Corey Brewer was the quietest of all the starters, scoring just seven points on 2/3 (66.7%) shooting from the floor, and he was a bit of a liability on defense as Donovan Mitchell was able to score easily and often early in the game. As for the bench, Thunder reserves managed just 17 points, and Alex Abrines supplied 11 of those on 4/7 (57.1%) from the floor, including 3/5 (60%) from three. Overall, Oklahoma City had a solid game, but they have plenty of room to improve for Wednesday.
Game 2 on Wednesday
Oklahoma City stays at home for Game 2 against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. Tip-off is set for 7 PM CT and will be televised on NBA TV and FSOK. The game will also be broadcast on the radio on WWLS 98.1 FM.
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Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and give us a like on Facebook.