By Michael Doutey
The Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder couldn’t have looked more different from their playoffs series last April. Just seven months ago, Utah appeared to be a team on the rise in the Western Conference while OKC looked like a high salary roster of misfits. That couldn’t be more wrong as we are now 25 games deep in the 2018-2019 season.
The Thunder absolutely took it to the Jazz. OKC lead from start to finish, taking double-digit leads that the Jazz would find a way to keep it close for a few moments with a couple runs. But the Thunder eventually blew the doors wide open in the third quarter, leading by as many as 26.
The Jazz would scrap with their bench unit to try and get back into the game, but the Thunder held off a fourth quarter surge, taking the game 122-113 and advancing to 17-8 on the season. Here are tonights five observations.
ONE: Paul George is MVP Caliber
PG was lights out this game from start to finish. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter, but still dropped 31 points on a hot 8-10 shooting and an even hotter 5-6 from three. He was aggressive, getting to the line and converting 10-12 from the stripe. As good as he was on offense, he was just as good on defense. He grabbed four steals, was all over the place and getting deflections and running in transition. He also had three assists and three rebounds. He’s been so good on both sides of the ball. Between Kawhi Leonard of Toronto and PG, it is hard to find a better two-way player in the whole league. PG is starting to get some real recognition as an MVP candidate. He’s been excellent all season and now his shot is falling with regularity. Tonight was another reason why he is having one of the best seasons of his career.
TWO: Adams Early Impact
Steven Adams was a load early in this one. So much so that it got Rudy Gobert in early foul trouble, which took Gobert out of his game and rendered him ineffective compared to what he is capable of. But Adams was excellent, scoring 22 points on 7-13 shooting, went 8-10 from the FT line, grabbed seven rebounds (SIX offensive) and only had to play 29 minutes. He was tremendous and set the tone for OKC in this one.
THREE: Bench Mob Back At It
The Thunder were able to extend lead when the bench came in. Dennis Schröder had an excellent game off the bench, scoring 23 points on 9-17 shooting, dished out six assist and grabbed four rebounds. He was pesky on defense and really good on offense. He was aided by Nerlens Noel, who continues to be a big time factor for
OKC. He was matched up with Gobert for a period in the second quarter and he completely bothered Gobert. Noel scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds, two steals and one block. Hamidou Diallo looked like his old self since his nasty fall in Oakland. Diallo scored nine points in 10 minutes on 4-5 shooting. The Thunder bench combined for 40 points. When healthy, this Thunder bench is one of the very best in the NBA.
FOUR: Westbrook’s Off Night
Yes, Westbrook tallied another triple-double, but it came in a game where he didn’t play especially well. We’ve seen him do this before, but typically the Thunder struggle when Russ shoots like this. Westbrook shot an abysmal 4-18 from the floor and 0-5 from three for 12 points. Yikes. But for the first time in several seasons, the Thunder have real depth. You had PG drop 31, Adams go for 22, Schröder scored 23 off the bench and Grant adds 13. The Thunder completely owned the Jazz despite a poor shooting night from Westbrook. That has never been the case in the past. Yet, the Thunder are built differently this year. This is yet another reason to buy that the Thunder are different this season compared to years past.
FIVE: Utah Funk
The Jazz are now 13-15 on the season. This is such a different type of team than what they were last year. There is something missing from them and you can tell that the frustration is setting in. Gobert has raged war on the officiating. He’s had several battles with them over the past couple weeks, all of which he’s lost. He was visibly frustrated again after being called for five fouls in 21 minutes. But this team is just not what they were a season ago. They might figure things out and they’ve had a tough schedule. But man, this is Jazz team has some things to figure out.
The Thunder have a very busy week this week and will next be on the road in New Orleans to take on the Pelicans on Wednesday. Tip is set for 7 p.m. inside the Smoothie King Arena.