Several Huge Performances Steal Home Court for Jazz

April 18th, 2018 | by Clint Johnson

After a quiet Game 1, the Utah’s Jazz’s Derrick Favors (15) overpowered Russell Westbrook (0) and the Oklahoma City Thunder to the tune of 20 points and 16 rebounds, tying their first round series at one game apiece and stealing home court for the Jazz. (Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman)

Story of the Game

Entering Game 2 of the First Round Western Playoff series between the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the home team expected their big three of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony to lift them to a 2 – 0 series lead. But it was the Jazz who mustered a shocking big three, who shouldered the underdogs to a 102 – 95 victory and home court advantage heading back to Salt Lake City.

In Game 1 Westbrook, George, and Anthony combined to score 80 points, fueled largely by George’s eight made threes on 11 attempts. Tonight the Thunder started the game hot again, making seven of 16 threes (44 percent) in the first half. But when that cooled down Utah’s defense, which terrorized the league in the second half of the season, took control of the series for the first time. By the fourth quarter, the Thunder’s atypical accuracy from long range failed them as they missed 13 of their last 14 threes. 

In the defensive grind, and against all expectation, it was three Utah players who took control of the game.

After being a forgotten man in Game 1, Derrick Favors may have been the best overall player on the floor in this game. His dominance on the glass, especially with his game-high eight offensive rebounds, punished the Thunder in the absence of a foul-laden Steven Adams. He gave Utah second possession after second possession, slowing down the game and almost single handedly giving Utah a 20 to nine advantage in second chance points in the game. As if this wasn’t enough, he even hit two threes!

While Favors was eating glass, Ricky Rubio did his best Paul George impression, hitting five of eight three point shots on his way to 22 points in the game. It was something of a pinnacle for the evolved Rubio, who won multiple games for the Jazz this year by hitting the wide open threes teams have given him since he was a rookie. Tonight he made those shots, on the road, in his first trip to the playoffs, propping up Utah’s offense when they desperately needed it.

But where Rubio kept Utah in the game, Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell won it for them. The rookie extraordinaire struggled in the first half, scoring only eight points on 10 shots by halftime. Yet when the Thunder went on a torrential 19 to nothing run in the third quarter, turning a seven-point halftime deficit into a 10-point lead, Mitchell once again put on his cape and tried to win the Jazz the game.

And he did just that, scoring 20 second-half points including 13 in a dominant fourth quarter where he added four rebounds and an assist, ending the night with a game-high 28.

The Thunder’s big three ended the contest with 54 points on 58 shots, 28 rebounds, and 14 assists. Favors, Rubio, and Mitchell countered with 70 points on 55 shots, 29 rebounds, and 14 assists. 

And so Utah stole home court by beating Oklahoma City using their own formula. 

Stars of the Game

Superstars: Derrick Favors (20 points, 16 rebounds [8 offensive], 3 assists, 1 steal, 2 threes, +14), Ricky Rubio (22 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, 1 steal, 5 threes, 5 free throws), and Donovan Mitchell (28 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 8 free throws)

It’s genuinely amazing that these three Jazz players grabbed a playoff game from a trio of Thunder players with a combined 22 All-Star honors, all three of whom have been serious MVP candidates at some point in their careers. Consider just how impressive these players were.

Favors became only the fifth player in NBA history to make multiple threes in a playoff game while grabbing eight or more offensive rebounds: Scottie Pippen did it twice, and Tracy McGrady, Dominique Wilkins, and Dale Ellis all did it once. 

Rubio became the eighth player in NBA history to combine nine assists, seven rebounds, and five each of threes and free throws in a playoff game. The others are Westbrook, LeBron James (twice), Stephen Curry (twice), Steve Nash, Paul George, Kyle Lowry, and Gary Payton.

As for Mitchell, at 21 years old he’s now scored 55 combined points in his first two playoff games, 27 followed immediately by 28. Since 1980, the only other rookies to have two back-to-back games of 27 points in the playoffs are Michael Jordan (three games), David Robinson, and Alonzo Morning. Mitchell did it in his first two playoff games. None of the others did.

Hopefully NBA fans realize they saw historically good basketball from three Utah Jazz players tonight. 

Secondary Star: Rudy Gobert (13 points, 15 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 3 blocks, 7 of 12 free throws)

Gobert’s line honestly looks more impressive than his actual impact this game. Like Adams, Gobert found himself in foul trouble for part of the night, and when on the floor he continues to struggle against Adams’ overwhelming strength. But Gobert is incapable of being intimidated, and he simply kept fighting every second on the court until he was finally able to make a huge impact in the fourth quarter of this game, where he scored five points (on five of six free throws down the stretch of a must-have game), grabbed six rebounds, and blocked two shots. When Utah needed to bring home the game, Gobert played a huge role in making that happen.

Secret Star: Jonas Jerebko (10 points, 5 rebounds, +19)

After being a glaring defensive liability in Game 1 and little else, Jerebko was almost all of Utah’s bench contribution this game. Despite missing both his three attempts, his energy cutting without the ball got him multiple quality shots within the arc, and he made five of seven from that range. He also contributed hugely on the defensive glass, jumping over Adams for several rebounds as Gobert simply fought for his life against the huge New Zealander. 

Stats of the Game

94.1 – Points allowed per 100 possessions by Utah’s defense, a super-elite rate reminiscent of their torrid close to the regular season.

9 – Second chance points for the Thunder, 10 fewer than in Game 1.

16 – Fourth quarter points by Oklahoma City, which allowed the Jazz to crush them by 12 in the decisive period.

12 – Lead changes in this hugely competitive and entertaining game.

31 percent – Jazz three point shooting, below their season average despite the win.

Sundries

  • The Thunder are in trouble. Consider the following:
    • Utah stole home court in a game where they made only nine of 29 attempts from three. Ingles, Mitchell, and Jae Crowder – the three Jazz players who lead the team in made threes per game – shot one of 14 from long range. That type of futility likely won’t happen again, certainly not in three more games.
    • Ingles is really struggling against Paul George’s defense. He managed only three points and two assists tonight, his most futile game all season. Recognizing how impossible it is to ask Ingles to go up against the far superior athlete in George, today Quin Snyder changed his substitution pattern to match Crowder up against George more often. Crowder answered with a horrid game, scoring only a single point and bleeding a team-worst minus-14 in the contest. Ingles and Crowder have been completely dominated by George so far this series, yet Utah is coming home with a split. If either of these Jazz forwards starts contributing even moderately by their standards on the season, how will the Thunder counter, especially on Utah’s home court?
    • With Adams off the floor, the Thunder’s rebounding percentage drops more than eight percentage points. If Derrick Favors plays with the determination he showed tonight on the glass, Oklahoma City simply has no one to keep him in check when Adams sits.
    • What do the Thunder do about Carmelo Anthony? He played the energy defender and floor stretcher in Game 1, which went a long way to helping his team win. Tonight he scored 17 points on 18 shots and made only two of nine three pointers, including missing two huge open threes down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Jazz mercilessly orchestrated switches to get Anthony onto Mitchell late in the game, which helped the rookie parade to the line six times in the quarter. Anthony simply isn’t a star anymore and when the Jazz tempt him to play as if he is, it’s to the Thunder’s detriment. But can Billy Donovan really sit him down in the fourth quarter in the playoffs? He did in situations in the regular season. But to do so now would be incredibly risky. 
  • This series would be completely different if Andre Roberson wasn’t hurt. George has been the most difference-making defender in this series (yes, more so than Gobert), effectively locking Ingles and Crowder out of the game. Yet Mitchell has set scoring records for a rookie in his first playoff experience. If Roberson were available to check Mitchell, it’s hard to see how Utah could score enough points to win this series. Without him, one has to wonder if George can keep up the smothering defense when he will likely need to lead his team in scoring most nights for the Thunder to be favorites to win. That’s an awfully tough burden for even a player of his caliber.

It’s often said that an NBA playoff series doesn’t start until a road team wins a game. Well, this series has started, and Utah is returning home exactly where they wanted to be with a 1 – 1 split. As the more veteran squad, the Thunder had to hope they could take advantage of their young opponents’s nerves early in the series. After all, Mitchell admitted he nearly threw up when the gravity of playoff basketball set in early in Game 1.

Instead, the Jazz have weathered two early games on the road without their offense playing particularly well, as indicated by their 18 and 22 assists in these games. At home, things should loosen up. Role players in particular are known to feed off home energy, and if Utah can start leveraging its depth against a shallow Thunder team, it will prove one more advantage. 

Saturday’s winner in Game 3 will become a heavy favorite to win the series – and the Jazz will get a chance to do that in front of possibly the loudest fanbase in the NBA. All eyes should take note of the first home playoff game in the Donovan Mitchell era.   

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson

Clint Johnson is a professional author, writing educator, and editor. He teaches writing at Salt Lake Community College. A frequent presenter at both writing and educational conferences, he writes about the Jazz as a break from his other writing work.

4 Comments

  1. cdg says:

    Ingles seem to have the highest PER though.

    So did he actually play badly?

    • Clint Johnson says:

      Did you mean plus-minus? Ingles PER in the series is 3.5, which is abysmal. He has substantial negatives in BPM (both offensive and defensively) and has a WS/48 of .004.

  2. Paul Johnson says:

    In my youth, Utah had Donny and Marie.

    Now, in my old age, Utah has Donny and Rudy.

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