(Photo by TorreyPurvey.com)
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — The main focus of Utah after their Game 1 loss to Oklahoma City was physical play. From Coach Quinn Snyder on down, the Jazz said they Allowed the Thunder to push them around.
Making sure that didn’t happen again in Game 2 was a top priority list for the Jazz. And this time, it was the Thunder who didn’t have an answer Utah defeated Oklahoma City 102-95 Wednesday to even the first-round series at 1-1.
“Yeah, we felt this one,” Utah’s Jae Crowder said. “We’ve been talking all week, and when watched the film it woke us up to see how easy and free the game is. In the playoffs it shouldn’t be that easy, it should be tough. They made it tough for us game one, but I think we hit first in game two and we kept hitting even when it got tough and they went on runs. We kept going.”
Donovan Mitchell led all scorers with 28 points for the Jazz. Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors scored 22 and 20 points, respectively.
Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 19 points, nine rebounds and 13 assists. Paul George added 18 points and 10 boards while Carmelo Anthony chipped in with 17 points and nine rebounds.
However, the trio combined to score only 2 points in the fourth quarter on 0-14 shooting.
“I don’t know. We missed them,” Anthony said. “We all missed. I don’t really have an answer to what happened or an excuse on why we didn’t make shots. We just didn’t make shots in that fourth quarter. We worked so hard in the third quarter to get the lead back and played too well to get back to go up seven or eight in that third quarter. [In the] fourth quarter, we didn’t shoot the ball well.”
With 2:53 left in the game, Steven Adams fouled out trying to stop a Rudy Gobert layup. He stomped off the court as Gobert pointed toward the exit for him.
Gobert put the Jazz up 95-91. Two possessions later, Westbrook hit a pair of free throws to close the gap to two with a pair of free throws.
Mitchell was fouled by Anthony and he knocked down both free throw attempts.
Grant missed a three-pointer from the corner and the Jazz got the board. That led to a Mitchell spinning layup to put Utah up 99-93.
However, Oklahoma City’s Jerami Grant came back with a layup of his own. The Thunder then forced the Jazz into back to back empty possessions. However, Anthony missed a pair of 3-pointers and Oklahoma City was unable to capitalize.
Gobert hit two more free throws and Utah led 101-95 with 21 seconds left. That was enough to close out the night.
“We’ve just got to be aggressive, miss and make shots,” Westbrook said about the fourth quarter. “Shots are going to fall. Those guys are unbelievable scorers and we trust in those guys all season long and we will continue to do that.”
Oklahoma City was also outrebounded 56-46, which was a part of Utah’s plan.
“They rebounded the ball offensively really well tonight [and] Ricky Rubio, he played great,” Oklahoma City’s Cory Brewer said. “He made shots, [Derrick] Favors played great, [Donovan] Mitchell played great. You know we’ve got to figure it out and come out and stop them next game.”
The first half was exactly the type of game the Jazz wanted. They were able to slow the pace down and turn it into a halfcourt grind on almost every possession.
Oklahoma City was held to four fast-break points in the half to go along with nine turnovers as Utah held a 53-46 halftime advantage.
“I mean it is playoffs. It is playoffs,” George said. “I think it’s a base level, period, when it comes to playoffs. You have to raise that physicality level. That’s all where it stems from. I’m going to let them know it’s not going to be easy out there.”
With Mitchell slowed by a poor shooting night, it was Favors who picked up the slack. After being held to just 7 total points Sunday, who shredded the Thunder interior defense in Game 2.
Midway through the third quarter, the Jazz led by 9.
However, that was short-lived. Oklahoma City came screaming back behind some timely 3-point shooting. Westbrook, Anthony and George all drained shots from long distance.
But more importantly for the Thunder, they began to clamp down on defense. They took away the easy looks they had been allowing and forced Utah into some tough shots.
The Thunder went on a 19-0 run to take a 10-point lead before Utah closed the deficit to 79-74 heading into the fourth quarter.
“The game is about runs. We had a big run and they had a run,” Anthony said. “They started off the game aggressive, getting us out of the flow of the offense early. We sustained that and got ourselves back into the game to end that third quarter. They sustained throughout the fourth quarter. Us not making shots in the fourth quarter played into their hands. They did a good job or making plays, offensive rebounds, 50/50 basketballs out there, loose balls out there and they beat us at the punch in the little things tonight. They ran away with this game.”
Game 3 is Saturday night in Utah.
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider