It seems like it was just yesterday, that the Jazz were destined for a number-three seed, and a first round series victory was a sure lock. Truthfully, it was a week ago that all of Jazz nation thought that way, myself included. Today, Utah is down 1-0 to Oklahoma City, and going into, dare I say, a must win situation in game two coming up later Wednesday evening.
So what has to happen? How can Utah bounce back, steal a game in OKC, and return to a raucous crowd in Salt Lake for games three and four in a tied series.
First things first, will Donovan Mitchell play? The rookie who has carried Utah to the playoffs, put on a show in his first post-season game, scoring 27 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. However, Mitchell also suffered a left foot contusion in the game. Though listed as questionable, Mitchell is expected to play in Game two.
“I think there’s very little chance that he does not play,” said Tony Jones, Utah Jazz insider from the Salt Lake Tribune. “The better question is how effective is he going to be on that toe, but I’m very certain he’ll at least attempt to give it a go.”
You can catch the entire Tony Jones interview from The Bill Riley Show:
With Mitchell expected to play, Utah will also look to their other players to step up tonight, including those who struggled in game one, mainly Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio. During their 29-6 finish to the regular season, Ingles and Rubio both shot the ball exceptionally well, though that wasn’t the case on Sunday. Rubio struggled, going just 5-of-18 from the field, and missing all of his three-point attempts. Ingles scored just one bucket from the first quarter to the third.
Ingles also comes into play with another key to victory for Utah, his matchup against Thunder shooter Paul George. George exploded in game one, scoring 36, going 8-for-11 from three-point range, in his first playoff game in a Thunder jersey. George’s glue-like defense on Ingles also limited Ingles and Rudy Gobert’s pick-and-roll offense that worked so well for Utah in the regular season.
The final key to victory, and perhaps the most important for Utah, is the play of Rudy Gobert. One of the favorite’s to win Defensive Player of the Year, Gobert has meant much more to the Jazz than people give him credit for, turning Utah into one of the premiere defensive teams in the NBA. In fact, the Jazz finished with a defensive rating of 115 in Sunday’s game, their second-worst since Rudy returned in January.
However in game one, the Thunder keyed in on Gobert, matching him against Steven Adams. One of the most notable stats from that, when Robert was focusing on boxing out Adams, Russell Westbrook grabbed 13 rebounds.
Gobert didn’t necessarily struggle in game one, scoring 14 points going 6-for-9 from the field, however the Jazz did lose the rebound battle 46-42. In Utah’s last seven wins, in six of those games, the Jazz have out-rebounded there opponents in six of those wins.