OKC Thunder at Utah Jazz: Game 4 preview

Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, OKC Thunder (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, OKC Thunder (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /
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Paul George
Paul George /

The very bright side is that the Thunder came to Utah needing only a split to get back on track. Getting run out of the incredibly loud gym was nowhere near ideal, but the fact remains that if they can steal game four, they’ll have home-court advantage back.

The fact also remains that, on balance, the Thunder should have the best two players on the court, and they should match up well with the Jazz on defense. In order for them to steal this game, they just have to play theirs.

Russ, be good at basketball

Let’s all try to remember: Russell Westbrook is still the reigning Most Valuable Player of the NBA. Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double this season. Russell Westbrook is a flying ball of plasma and barbed-wire with the heart of a lion on HGH.

In spite of all that, the shocking, undeniable truth is that Russell Westbrook is scared of Rudy Gobert. Consequently, he’s taking only 7 shot attempts within 5 feet of the basket, down from 8.6 per NBA.com. Per himself, he’s getting in trouble jumping in the air and looking back to make passes to the outside. It’s no coincidence that “looking back” is also “looking away from Rudy Gobert.”

Whether Russ is hurt, or he’s intimidated by the DPoY, or he’s simply going with the flow of the game as he sees it, something needs to change. If he drives in and gets his shot swatted twice, but also draws a couple fouls on the Stifle Tower, the Thunder will take that trade.

We’ve all seen how big of an impact having a star center in foul trouble can have.

Adams, stay in the game

Steven Adams committed five (or more) fouls only eight times in his 76 games this season (per Basketball Reference). As a result, he fouled out only once. The days of Adams’s rookie year, when he fouled quickly, often, and with great enthusiasm, are long gone, and he has become adept at playing physical but clean basketball.

In light of this skill, it’s incredibly inconvenient for the Thunder that he’s been in constant foul trouble in these last two games. OKC made a conscious, season-long decision not to add a backup center, and that choice was due in large part to Adam’s ability to stay on the court. While there are only a few teams that would even have the ability to punish OKC for this decision, should Adams need to sit, the Jazz are definitely one of them.

Adams is the perfect foil for the Frenchman on the other side, so it’s a crying shame that now, when the minutes of the stars should be ramping up, Adams has only been allowed 24 minutes per game in the last two.

We need you, Kiwi – you’re worth giving up one dunk if you have to.

Paul George, it’s Morphin’ Time

No doubt, the knock-down shooting from game one would be a welcome sight to these sore, tearful eyes, but that isn’t even what the Thunder will require to tie the series. The Thunder just need less of this:

As discussed in the Front Court Comparison, Joe Ingles is the stick that churns the Jazz’s butter. He’s a deadly shooter, an elite passer, and a competent ball-handler. Furthermore, Paul George appears to have beef with him. So, it makes no sense that, after doing him like his beautiful assistant and making him… disappear in game one (and even game two), Paul George forgot all about him in game three.

The Thunder need Paul George to flex back into Playoff P for game four, or the Jazz might have the last word.