Thunderous Thoughts: Nightlife is key

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 23: Carmelo Anthony
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 23: Carmelo Anthony /

Welcome to Thunderous Thoughts, you weekly look at the OKC Thunder. This week, the playoffs are here and the series will be decided by nightlife.

It’s been awhile since the OKC Thunder has seen the Utah Jazz. The last time these two teams met, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George were signing adoption papers for Donovan Mitchell.

A lot has changed since then. The Jazz, looking dead in the water, went on a tremendous run that nearly vaulted them to the third seed in the West. The Thunder were their typical inconsistent selves. 

It’s a new season.

While the OK2 and Carmelo praised the efforts of Mitchell following the December contest, they’ll tell you, “Simmons is better” starting on Sunday.

The OKC Thunder will win if….

Westbrook and George play like Westbrook and George.

On paper, they are a dynamic duo that few teams can match up against. Unfortunately, they haven’t always been in-sync this season. Whether it was Westbrook’s slow start or George’s poor finish, the two just couldn’t put it together at the same time. It wasn’t for a lack of chemistry. ‘

Starting in December, the chemistry was there. But George missed shots or Westbrook made bad decisions and it cost the team a handful of games. But if they play like the All-Stars they are, the Jazz simply don’t have the firepower to match. 

Anthony hits shots:

It’s really that simple. If he’s hitting his open threes, he takes the Thunder offense to a new level. If he misses those shots, he’s a liability. 

OKC Thunder contain Joe Ingles:

Forget Mitchell, Ingles is the guy you have to keep your eye on. His three-point shooting and decision making is the key that starts the Utah offense. Mitchell is going to get his. He’s a very good isolation player who can beat you in a variety of ways. Good scorers, who have the ball in their hand a lot, find ways to score. Ingles does his damage off the ball and that’s always the most dangerous guy. 

MUST READ: Thunder playoff gift guide

Playoff Billy Donovan shows up:

Donovan is 2-2 in playoff series. Not great, but not as bad the record indicates. He made a lot of right decisions last year against Houston. Unfortunately, he had to sit Westbrook at some point, and when he did, the team fell apart. He made a lot of right decisions against the Warriors two years ago.

The greatest scorer of this generation simply missed shots he’s made his entire career. The Spurs series is Donovan’s saving grace. He made the adjustments when Gregg Popovich failed. Donovan is a smart guy. Donovan has always used the regular season as a dress rehearsal. It was even more infuriating this season, but can be forgiven if Billy D coaches like we know he can in the playoffs. 

They don’t get caught up in the Utah nightlife.

It’s going to be hard, but they can’t give in to the temptation. 

The OKC Thunder will lose if….

Paul George struggles:

He’s the guy who takes this team to a different level. You know what you’re getting, good or bad, from Westbrook. George is the second star brought in to elevate the team. Game-winning shots aside, he’s been outstanding the last two years in the playoffs. But if he’s 2017 Playoff Oladipo, that’s a recipe for disaster. 

They came out flat in Game One:

More from Thunderous Intentions

The series doesn’t hinge on Game One, but being at home against a playoff team who lacks experience in their backcourt, the Thunder need a strong start. Set the tone from tip-off and put doubt into the head of Mitchell and Ricky Rubio.

Every member of the Thunder starting lineup has been to at least the Conference Finals. Starting strong is a must for this Thunder group. 

Westbrook doesn’t rebound:

The “stat padding” joke was run into the ground during the final two games of the season, but anyone who watched those game can tell you that their offense was better when Westbrook grabs the board. It’s simple, really.

If Westbrook gets the rebound, he can beat Rudy Gobert back and get to the rim without the best rim protector in the league deterring him. If someone else gets the rebound, they have to locate Westbrook, giving Gobert and the Jazz defense more time to set up. Running a half court offense against Utah isn’t easy. Allowing Westbrook to “grab and go” puts them on their heels. 

MUST READ: USA Olympic pool announced

Anthony is exposed:

Anthony is not a good one-on-one defender in space. Any switch that allows Mitchell or Rubio to go one-on-one with Anthony won’t end well for the Thunder. Much like they did against the Rockets, they must blitz or fight over the screen. Mitchell and Rubio aren’t James Harden with the ball, but they’re still dangerous enough to capitalize on the mismatch.

Anthony has value on defense. He’s very good in the post, has active hands, and communicates well. But all of that is negated if Utah consistently force him to defend in space.

Utah doesn’t get caught in the Oklahoma City nightlife.

It’ll be tough, but it could be a big difference maker.