kurthelin

Getty Images

Donovan Mitchell outplays Thunder Big 3 in fourth, Jazz win to even series

1 Comment

Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell had 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Oklahoma City’s big three — Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony — were 0-of-15 shooting in the fourth.

That, in a nutshell, is how the Jazz bounced back from a 19-0 Thunder run in the third quarter that had OKC in charge of the game. It’s how Utah got the win Game 2 win, 102-95, to even the series as it heads to Salt Lake City.

“There was a time out (after the OKC run) where there was a just a determination, and we felt like we would rely on our defense, and that’s what we did,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “Donovan, obviously, his aggressiveness on the offensive end fueled us there.”

It was what fueled them all night. In Game 2, the Jazz defense was more settled and like itself than the opener, and that forced more isolation ball out of Oklahoma City — they had eight assists and nine turnovers in the first half. The Thunder were still getting buckets because Playoff P and Westbrook are just great scorers, but it wasn’t nearly as efficient as it had been.

For the Thunder, it was often the Russell Westbrook show, and he was scoreless in the second quarter and had just a couple of free throws in the fourth.

All of that made this a game it felt like the Jazz needed to win — there are few chances to steal a game on the road against a good team, and this was one. The game was defensive and played in Utah’s style.

Which is why it was devastating when the Thunder had their 19-0 third quarter run, turning a deficit into a 10-point lead. In that stretch, the Jazz missed shots, took a few bad ones, and turned the ball over in that run. Mitchell even missed an uncontested dunk in there.

When Mitchell struggled, other guys stepped up.

Derrick Favors had a huge game for Utah, finishing with 20 points and 16 rebounds, eight of them offensive. He was particularly impressive in the first half, when Mitchell struggled (with George draped all over him). Utah had nine offensive rebounds in the first half, six of those by Favors. Utah’s dominance on the glass was big for them, Utah got a second chance on 37.5 percent of their missed shots in the first half, which is far too high a percentage. Steven Adams battling foul trouble had a lot to do with that.

“The biggest thing for us, Derrick Favors played his ass off,” Mitchell said after the game. “When we were missing shots he was getting rebounds, I think he had a double-double almost at the half [note: he had 10 points, 8 rebounds at the half]. Without Fav we wouldn’t even be at this point.”

The other key was Ricky Rubio. He was being more judicious about when to shoot and was looking to set up teammates. However, when left open and able to shoot in rhythm, Rubio was hitting, he was 5-of-8 from three on his way to 22 points and nine assists. Rubio struggled with his shot inside the arc (1-of-8) but he hit the big buckets and kept the floor spaced when asked. he had seven fourth-quarter points.

But the fourth belonged to Mitchell, who showed exactly what he meant to this team all season — they are not in the postseason without him. Mitchell finished with 28 points to lead the Jazz.

For the Thunder, the shots that fell in Game 1 did not in Game 2, much as it has been night to night for this team all season. George had 18 points on 21 shots, Anthony had 17 points on 18 shots, and Westbrook had 19 points on 19 shots. Combine that with Adams being in foul trouble most of the night and it was not the Thunder’s game.

Now the onus is on them to steal one in Utah, starting Friday night.

PBT Extra: Joel Embiid wants to play, he will change series when he does

Associated Press
3 Comments

After sitting in street clothes and watching his team lose Game 2, leveling the Heat/76ers first-round series, Joel Embiid vented on Instagram. He doesn’t want to be “babied” he wants to play. The Sixers, as is the franchise’s nature, is being cautious and thinking long term.

Embiid’s status for Game 3 is not yet known, and may not be until game time Thursday.

When he does return, he changes everything about this series, something I discuss in this latest PBT Extra. Just throw everything before it out, because matchups and style change. It’s not all positives for the Sixers either. Mostly Embiid’s return will bring better defense and another strong offensive option, it makes Philly demonstrably better, but the ball doesn’t whip around the Sixers offense the same way when he plays, and it gives the Heat a way to get Hassan Whiteside on the floor.

Until he does return, this series is a toss up and Miami has a shot to steal games.

PBT Extra: Things not good between Spurs, Kawhi Leonard, but not near a trade yet

2 Comments

Kawhi Leonard is not on the Spurs bench during the playoffs, supporting his teammates. He’s not speaking with team management, either.

Things are not good right now… but the Spurs are not close to trading him, either. At least not yet.

I get into all of it in this latest PBT Extra.

Maybe that day will come, we’ll have a better sense around the draft and into early July when the Spurs have to decide whether to offer Leonard a $200+ million designated veteran contract extension. Put it on the table, he’ll sign it. If they decide they don’t want to make that offer he’s traded.  But the Spurs are not there yet.

LeBron James says Cavs’ roster changes, search for identity hurt team’s playoff preparation

Getty Images
4 Comments

In Game 1 Sunday, the Indiana Pacers clearly knew who they were as a team. Indiana was confident in how they wanted to attack Cleveland and anything the defense threw at them (such as attempts to trap Victor Oladipo). The Pacers knew how they wanted to defend and how to help off of. Indiana played with confidence.

Cleveland looked lost.

LeBron was not attacking mismatches (and with him, everything is a mismatch), guys were standing around watching and waiting (seemingly for LeBron to just take over), and on defense the LeBron lacked energy and Cavaliers looked like they had all season when they were 29th in the league.

What happened to the Cavaliers? LeBron James said this to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

Telling quote from LeBron James on Wednesday looking back at the season and looking smack in the face of the 0-1 deficit the Cavs are in against Indiana: “I think we spent so much time trying to figure out who we were in the regular season and getting the right lineups and guys in and out and things of that nature, we could never build for the playoffs. It was kind of like, build for the next game. So the postseason finally hit us and it hit us very well. And I think that can be the best teacher for us to know exactly what we should be ready for tonight.”

The Cavaliers didn’t have time to build a proper identity with this lineup, and that did have an impact heading into the playoffs. So did the talent level around LeBron this year compared to the last three.

Expect a different Cavaliers team in Game 2 Tuesday, starting with an attacking LeBron James from the opening top — especially of Bojon Bogdanovic remains the primary defender on him. Look for Kevin Love to get more touches. Look for more J.R. Smith (maybe starting). Look for the Cavaliers to play with some desperation.

But does this team have an identity yet? Do they have the trust and habits built up with each other to get by the Pacers? And if so, what about a Toronto team finding it’s groove.

If the Cavaliers don’t have that identity and fall short, it will make for a very wild offseason in Cleveland.

Can Bradley Beal get his groove back? John Wall, coach Brooks think so

Getty Images
4 Comments

It hasn’t been pretty for Bradley Beal through two 2018 playoff games: 14 points per game average on 39.3 percent shooting overall and 27.3 percent from three. He’s shot just 16.7 percent on catch-and-shoots (he hit 44.3 percent in the regular season). Worst of all, he has been on the court through two games the Wizards have been outscored by 31.4 points per 100 possessions by the Raptors.

There are a lot of things Washington needs to do better on their home court to turn this series around, but at the top of the list is to get Bradley Beal going.

“The Raptors are doing a job with him, they’re being physical,” Wizards’ coach Scott Brooks said of Beal after Game 2.”He’s missed some open shots, he hasn’t been able to get into the lane and to the free throw line…. We need him. We’re going to have trouble beating this team if he doesn’t play better. He will.”

That confidence in Beal’s ability to get things right extends to John Wall, who tried to drag his team back into Game 2 with 22 second-half points but didn’t have enough help. Wall has Beal’s back, as he told ESPN.

“He’s been our MVP this year, he’s held it down a lot while I have been out. He is not going to make excuses about playing the most minutes [of his career] or being fatigued.

“We have to do a better job, and me as a point guard, of getting him involved and trying to find him shots to make it easier on him. And I know he will be very tough on himself; he is definitely going to get in the gym and get up extra shots and find ways to be more aggressive. We definitely need his scoring and his ability to create for others to make our team better and compete against this team.”

Washington has plenty of other issues in this series: Its defense has been a disaster, they look like a team that was up and down all season and not building good habits. Also, DeMar DeRozan and Toronto are excellent — they won 59 games for a reason.

Beal is the bellwether, though. If he can’t live up to the confidence of Wall and Brooks, this series will end quickly.