The primary thing that Oklahoma City’s historic comeback on Wednesday night showed us is that there’s still hope for the Thunder. Written off by the media, and the majority of their own fans, it would have been completely logical for OKC to just fade away and surrender when down by 25 in the third quarter. However, instead of quitting the Thunder chose to fight…and fight they did.
Here all of Russell Westbrook's second half field goals during the Thunder's epic comeback win against the Jazz in Game 5 pic.twitter.com/muKKCFQsFB
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It was a different kind of fight though. It wasn’t the out of control and out of their minds meltdown fight that we saw in Game Four. This was a tactical fight that featured poise and urgency as well as physicality and self-control. It’s a version of the Thunder that we haven’t seen this year in the playoffs. It’s the version of the Thunder that must show up in Salt Lake City tonight.
Lost in the drama of the comeback, the arguments of Melo’s playing time, and the hope of this series returning to Oklahoma City for Game Seven is the simple method that led us to where we are. The Thunder took the game inside the paint instead of trying to win it from long distance. The attacked Rudy Gobert instead of surrendering the lane to him. The result was a comeback win for the ages and also a different twist on the series.
The masses went from saying the Thunder were done in Game Five to arguing that if they can bring it back to Oklahoma City for Game Seven then it’s Utah that doesn’t have a chance. All because they attacked the basket.
“Both teams are fighting for deep paint shots, deep paint points, and fouls,” Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan said. “I don’t think anybody is totally trying to settle on jump shots. I think jump shots over a series can be kind of hit or miss.”
The problem is that the Thunder had been settling for those jump shots…but not anymore.
“When the ball hits the paint it opens up a lot of different things,” Donovan continued. “It opens up offensive rebounds, it opens up kick out shots, it opens up easier baskets, it opens up fouls. I think both teams are fighting for the deep paint.”
The Thunder not only outscored the Jazz, 44-32, in the paint on Wednesday night, they also sent Utah’s big men to the pine with foul trouble. Five fouls limited Rudy Gobert to just 30 minutes of playing time while Derrick Favors was only on the floor for 24 minutes. The two combined for just 21 points and 15 rebounds.
Seeing the negative impact of them not being on the court will make Favors and Gobert more foul-aware when it comes to defending the rim. What that means is that OKC should attack it even more…and then attack again.
For three games Utah laid out a game plan for soundly beating the Thunder. In Game Five Oklahoma City discovered the Game Plan for beating the Jazz. Now they must stick to it.