Hightlights courtesy of MLG Highlights
1. Don’t you love it when people follow though on their playoff promises? After the empty one made by Russell Westbrook following a game 3 drubbing due in part to a triple double effort by Ricky Rubio where Russy proclaimed “He ain’t gonna do that shit again” (which to be fair, he didn’t do that shit again but the Jazz rolled them by 17) Donovan “Spida” Mitchell said after a devastating Game 5 defeat on Wednesday in which they squandered a 25 point lead that “There ain’t gonna be a game seven”. Well, this much is true and Mitchell personally assured us that it would be with a 38 point outburst to close out the Oklahoma City Thunder taking the series in six games.
After being tied 41 all at the half everyone was preparing for the worst. Utah lost Ricky Rubio for the rest of the game with 4:52 left in the first quarter to a hamstring injury and it appeared that it took everything they had to play OKC to a tie despite the late second quarter run that put them back in the game. When the third quarter began there was an air of uncertainty about how Utah (who has trouble getting buckets at full strength at times) would produce points without their point guard who has been on a hot streak for seemingly months now. This was when Spida went to work. Mitchell scored 23 of his team high 38 points in the third quarter which allowed the Jazz to enjoy an eight point cushion heading into the fourth.
This is the type of performances we ask of our stars but are pleasantly surprised when we see this level of composure form a rookie. Factoring in that he did this with two future HOFers and one of the best two way players in the game makes this Instant Classic worthy. Mitchell dominated a normally solid OKC D at will producing at the rack and in the mid-range (9 of 16 on two point attempts) as well as from deep (5 of 8 from three) as well as at the line nailing all five attempts. Far too often we get excited over young players and naturally expect them to show up on the big stage as they would on a Wednesday night playing the Kings. We know this isn’t how things work out most of the time but when it does man does it stick with you.
2. Even with Rubio going out and Mitchell’s stellar showing Utah still played a very balanced game which if anything you can argue was exactly what the ultimate difference was in this one (I’ll explain later). Besides DM slipping into OKC for 38 the Jazz had four other scorers in double figures. Although this may have been the only game of the series that Stephen “Big Funaki” Adams won the battle of the paint Rudy “The Stifle Tower” Gobert still got another double double under his belt with 12 points, 13 boards and most importantly three blocks. Derrick “D Fav” Favors proved once again why his involvement is vital to their success putting up 13 and 8 with two blocks. “Jingling Joe” Ingles easily assumed the role of lead facilitator with 5 assists to go along with 12 points and 7 boards. The starters were definitely an active and lively bunch but it most certainly didn’t stop there.
Utah has recently garnered a reputation tough play and great chemistry. The thing about those two characteristics is that they are values that extend far beyond your star player(s) and most of the times includes your reserves. This was something that was quite apparent last night with the Jazz’s bench mob coming up big. Although he didn’t even come close to duplicating his offensive output from Game 5 (not even close) he did excel at what he does best. Making up for his horrid 2 of 10 shooting resulting in only 5 points Jae Crowder was a the defensive jack of all trades doing all of the little things that won’t fill up the boxscore but contributes to a dominant defense. Royce O’Neale was also good on the defensive end and got a pair of buckets up.
Yet sometimes you don’t see who pushes you over the top. Alec Burks who for long stretches have been relegated towards the end of the Utah bench came up big last night. Immediately filling in for the injured Rubio, Burks sprung to action and gave Utah a much needed shot in the arm offensively soring 11 points in 16 minutes. Look, either one of these teams would have been an interesting foe for the Rockets but I would be lying if I said I’m not just a tad bit more excited about seeing what this Jazz team can do against the best of the West. If this Utah team continues to gut out wins like they did here they may be longer for this postseason than we think.
3. This one hurts, really bad. And once again, it was the failure of one (in this case two) of the OKC 3 to show up and show out. Who it wasn’t on was Russell “Hustle” Westbrook. Russy led all scorers with 46 points on 18 of 41 shooting including 7 of 19 from three to go with 10 boards and five dimes. However, in a theme that has been common throughout the series Westbrook couldn’t get to the line which is where he wreaks the most havoc. He did hit all of his five attempts (in a game where foul shooting STUNK on both ends with OKC making 53.8% of their free throws and Utah only striking on 52.2% of their attempts from the charity stripe) but premium Russy gets to the line 10 or more times.
Last night was the full Westbrook experience, we saw his trademark hyper aggressive style of play which means wild careens into the basket, shot attempts that only an overly supportive mother would love, blazing past defenders leaving them flat-footed and the raw, unbridled emotion that is tailored to his game. But alas, it wasn’t enough. And to clarify this isn’t saying that HE wasn’t enough but they were too forgone to be saved
Where Utah had five scorers in double figures OKC only had one outside of Russ. Steven Adams has been by and large dominated by Rudy Gobert all series but tonight he found his swagger tallying 19 points to go with 16 rebounds on 9 of 11 from the field. Unfortunately, this is where the silver lining ends.
Straight up, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony failed this team. I know what you’re about to say “H.B., Melo only attempted seven shots and hit three of them” to which I would reply “Exactly!”. Melo also had PM (plus/minus) of -19 the worst of any player to touch the floor last night. As per usual, Anthony’s inability to move off the ball and try to facilitate some sort of safety valve Russ could use in the face of Paul George’s struggles (don’t worry almost there) is confounding at best and infuriating at worst.
And Paul, ohhhhhhhhhh Paul. You gave us such hope after Playoff P made an appearance in Game 5 only to let us down once again. I get it folks, bad games happen and you can’t control when bad games happen but duuuuuuuude this one has to sting. Paul “I’m Too Disappointed To Even Do A Playoff P Related Pun” George did as the French say stunk up the joint last night. In 45 minutes of action PG was only able to muster 5 points on 2 of 16 shooting while missing all three point attempts. He did toss eight assists but that came at the cost of committing six turnovers, one more than Westbrook who had a much higher usage rate.
But what’s probably the most dismaying about the sequence of events that led to the conclusion of the Thunder’s season is that these two guys, the duo they brought in to push them into the upper echelon of the Western Conference abandoned them when they were needed the most. Sorry to come off sounding like the shotty premise of a Lifetime movie but that’s exactly what happened. I could spend a few lines talking about Jerami Grant’s good evening but it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. They failed the Thunder thus the Thunder failed and with so much invested it will be interesting to see through which lens Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City front office will view this off-season. Needless to say they won’t be rose colored.