OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (49-35)
at UTAH JAZZ (49-35)
Tip-off: Saturday, 10:00 p.m. ET
Line: Utah -4, Total: 207
The Thunder and Jazz are knotted at one game apiece as the series heads to Salt Lake City.Rookie Jazz SG Donovan Mitchell had a spectacular playoff debut on Sunday, notching 27 points and 10 rebounds against the Thunder. But the takeaways for Mitchell and his teammates were largely negative: The Jazz lost the game, and Mitchell bruised his left foot to the point where he was considered doubtful to play in Game 2. At tip-off in Oklahoma City on Wednesday night, though, Mitchell was out there, and he pushed through the pain to help carry Utah to a 102-95 victory and tie the series up at one game apiece. After two games in rowdy Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Jazz will now get two games in the friendly confines of Vivint Smart Home Arena, where they also lay claim to one of the league's most energetic crowds. Since 1996, home favorites of 3.5 to 9.5 points that have beaten the spread by 30 or more total points in their last five games (UTAH) are 63-26 ATS in games featuring two teams with winning percentages between .510 and .600. On the other hand, over the last five seasons, teams coming off a home loss to a division rival (OKC) are 55-25 ATS against opponents that themselves are coming off of a win against a division rival.
After shooting 48.2% from the floor and 48.3% from three in Game One, the Thunder saw those respective numbers dip to 40.0% and 31.4% in Game 2. In contests that were each decided by double-digit final margins, those discrepancies can make all the difference. SF Paul George was the hero in Game 1 with 36 points on 13-of-20 shooting (8-11 3PT), but he mustered only 18 points (and 10 boards) on 6-of-21 shooting (4-12 3PT) on Wednesday. PG Russell Westbrook only mustered up 19 in G2 after scoring 29 in the opener, although he did his usual stat-stuffing with nine rebounds and 13 assists. With both George and Westbrook failing to reach the 20-point threshold, it's actually somewhat surprising that the Thunder kept the game as close as they did. SF Carmelo Anthony had 17 points and nine boards after posting 15 and 7 three nights earlier, but did so on 6-of-18 shooting and 2-of-9 three-point shooting. Melo is a help on the boards, but if he's not shooting efficiently than he's more likely than not a net negative on the floor. One major concern for the Thunder is the right arm of C Steven Adams, who had nine points and seven rebounds in only 22 minutes in Game 2 after having played 37 minutes in Game 1. The injury—if it is in fact an injury—happened on an alley oop in Game 1, and Adams sure did look limited in Game 2. He's pretty much the only true big that OKC has, unless you count PF Patrick Patterson, who has played 18 total minutes in the series even with Adams seeing more time on the bench. Melo, George and SF Corey Brewer are all sizeable guys in the starting lineup, but none centers, and that same goes for SF Jerami Grant, who played 30 minutes off the bench in Game 2 after playing only 14 in the first game. He's a rim protector, but he still can't match what Adams does on either end of the floor.
In regular-season circumstances, Mitchell wouldn't have played on Wednesday night—and he certainly wouldn't have played 43 minutes, six more than anyone else on his team. He shot 10-of-25 from the floor for 28 points, almost identically to Westbrook's lines from Game 1. But he was also 0-for-7 from deep and turned the ball over a game-high four times. Undoubtedly, his performance was all-in-all a huge positive. One just hopes that he didn't exacerbate his injury, something that playing 43 minutes of all-out basketball could certainly do. C Rudy Gobert was excellent and did his thing in the win, scoring 13 points to go with 15 rebounds and three blocks. He's a game-changing presence in the post whose impact on defense isn't typically done justice by traditional, basic stats. That said, he was actually outshined by a less heralded teammates on Wednesday, as PF Derrick Favors tore through the OKC interior for 20 points (8-14 FG) and 16 rebounds. Favors is underappreciated as a player, and has been for years now, but such a breakout outing goes to show why OKC needs Adams playing full-time at full strength. SF Joe Ingles barely made a ripple in the box score with three points, two rebounds and two assists in 34 minutes, but the "D" half of his three-and-D skill set played a large role in containing George and Anthony. He was a game-best plus-21 on the court. PG Ricky Rubio was only playing in his second playoff game ever—the first having been on Sunday—and was awesome with 22 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Some credit for Mitchell's early career success should be given to Rubio and his skills as a facilitator, and that showed on Wednesday. PF Jonas Jerebko provided a spark with 10 points (5-9 FG) and five rebounds in 13 minutes off the bench.