Five Thoughts 4-15-18 (Game 1 Thunder 116, Jazz 108)

1. As a die hard sports fan that has languished more often than not for the past 25ish years tethering myself to teams (Redskins, Reds) that have only experienced very brief (and very modest) levels of success, I am forever grateful for the Thunder and what they’ve brought to our city (and my fandom) for the past 10 years. Playoff time in OKC is truly awesome. I don’t take it for granted and I know for sure that someday I will look back on these years with fondness (regardless of how it all eventually turns out). One reason I love it is because so many other people reach “my level” this time of the year. Pretty clear that I’m a locked-in Thunder fan from the opening tip of the opening game. Once the playoffs roll around it ratchets another level and many others who may watch more casually join me and the other mentally unstable die hards for the playoff run. I welcome it. Makes it more fun. It was another typically raucous atmosphere at The Peake tonight. Crowd was pretty lit. Thing is for me, I love the build up to playoff games; the chatter; the anticipation. And I love the aftermath of wins. Makes the days in between fly by and just puts me in a great mood. But the actual games? Oh man, I really don’t like those. Can’t say I really enjoy them all that much. So tense. Lots of nerves. Such a grind. Tonight wasn’t too bad because the lead was comfortable enough throughout the second half. But I could feel it coming. I was still pretty tight. It’s just starting. Looking forward to it. Mostly.2. Don’t get too caught up in the carry-over from game to game in the playoffs. Thunder won tonight in large part because PG went bananas and the team overall was scorching from beyond the arc. You could easily spin it as “well, George was unconscious and the Thunder hit a trillion three’s and it was still close— what are the odds they do that again?” Well, the odds of THAT happening again aren’t good. It is highly unlikely PG is that insanely timely or efficient again in Game 2 or in any game this series. It’s unlikely the Thunder sniff 48% from three again. But don’t get lost in that. In the playoffs everything resets game to game. Tonight they were hot from deep and they rode that to a W. Game 2 is likely to have a different dynamic. Maybe the game will be decided in the paint. Or on the boards. Maybe PG will cool down and someone else will need to heat up. You do what you have to do to win THAT game. This differs from the regular season where you are pacing yourself. You sometimes do things that may lessen your odds in that game in the name of future rewards. That doesn’t happen in the playoffs. It’s all-in game to game and possession to possession. Thunder got the job done in Game 1. Book closed on that. No need to worry about repeating that performance; it’s a whole new show on Wednesday.

3. The formula was on full display tonight. How do the Thunder keep winning and ultimately advancing in the playoffs? You saw it tonight:

A) Either PG or Russ needs to play at a superstar level
B) The other one needs to at least be solid/productive
C) Defense needs to be on point and creating turnovers and break out opportunities
D) Melo (or someone else) needs to efficiently fill in any offensive gaps

Tonight it was check, check, check, check across the board. We had one of our two best players playing at an elite level. Russ wasn’t superb tonight, but he was good enough for sure. Defense was good all game with the exception of a few breakdowns in the paint leading to easy dunks for Utah. And I thought Melo was great— especially in the first half. He was active and made plays on both ends. With the team struggling a bit early he helped get things on track. It was really a perfect blending of three players.

4. No Thunder game is EVER over until the final buzzer. This cuts both ways— whether they are ahead or behind. I’ve never seen anything like it. They are capable of making amazing comebacks and they are capable of blowing seemingly insurmountable leads. It’s remarkable. Even when the other team waves the white flag and takes their starters out like Utah did tonight, it STILL isn’t over. Now, truth be told the Jazz never REALLY threatened late. But they did make it a little uneasy and they certainly added another five to ten minutes (in real time) that were totally unnecessary. Tonight, it was mainly due to Russ being careless/dumb at the end. With an 11 point lead and a little over a minute to go, Russ attacked the rim early in the shot clock for some reason. He could have bled it down to about 45 seconds. Even if they miss, eleven points and 45 seconds is virtually impossible to overcome (even against the Thunder). But a quick shot, followed by a quick three and now it’s an 8 point game with over a 1:00 remaining. Still a long shot, but you’ve now at least given Utah reason to keep trying. And it just muddies up the end of the game. Russ made a few shaky decisions tonight but that was the worst. I understand not wanting to go stagnant with the lead and just hoist something at the end of the shot clock, but with that little time remaining, it’s fine. Not a good “time and place” decision by Russ there. We’ve of course also seen him do the opposite and get a game within shouting distance that was long before lost. So it goes both ways. Luckily it only cost us a few extra heart palpitations and a few extra minutes tonight.

5. All around good effort. Team was well prepared, they played with great energy, and gave an excellent effort on the defensive end for 48 minutes. They did a good job of protecting the six point halftime lead. They didn’t slack to start the second half and maintained the lead throughout the remainder of the game. PG was sensational. Russ solid. Melo and Abrines with positive contributions. The Thunder are clearly the more explosive team here. Utah is going to have to win this series by grinding the Thunder down and frustrating us into consistently poor decisions. The bad news for Utah is that OKC is pretty adept at winning ugly— they’ve had a lot of practice with that this year. A grind doesn’t bother the Thunder. As a matter of fact, I think they welcome it. Now is the time for adjustments. Both coaches have seen the initial strategy from the other. Game 2 of a series is often where you will see the biggest changes/shifts in approach. For the Thunder, I don’t think much will change defensively other than maybe trying to throw a few different looks at Mitchell (he’s fantastic by the way). Utah defended us well tonight— we just made tough shots. Not really sure what else they might try and do that we didn’t see tonight. It was a really good effort and a solid win. Nice to be able to enjoy it for two days. Game 2 should yield results that get us farther down the road.

Ed Kleese is a long-time Thunder season ticket holder and a smart Thunder fan. You can read all his work on his own personal blog.

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