By Harrison Porter | The Jazz’s first game back absolutely lived up to its billing. Jordan Clarkson carried the entire second unit and tied for a game-high 23 points. The team missed Bojan’s offensive punch and it looks like Donovan and Rudy are putting their differences aside on the court. The Jazz must quickly shift gears from their late game heroics against the Pelicans and turn their attention towards the Oklahoma City Thunder. After all, this could be a potential preview for the Jazz’s first round playoff matchup, as the Thunder are currently the 5th seed in the West and the Jazz sit as the 4th seed.
Chris Paul has revitalized the Thunder Organization, and his rag-tag band of role players have consistently gone toe-to-toe against teams led by the biggest superstars in the NBA. The Thunder looked strong in their three scrimmages and went undefeated behind strong bench play. While the Thunder are coming off solid offensive performances across the past three scrimmages, the Jazz are coming off a strong opening night victory against the Pelicans. This matchup is enticing because there’s a strong possibility the Jazz will see OKC again as a first round playoff opponent. I’ve identified three key game threads, or as I’ve coined them, “Jazz Notes,” that will enable Donovan and company to set the tone for a potential rematch in mid-August.
Jazz Note #1: Defense and Guarding Beyond the Arc
The first key “Jazz Note” is their defense and guarding OKC players beyond the arc. The Jazz are giving up almost 107.8 points per game this season. While they held the Pelicans to 104 points on 42.6% shooting from the field, the Pelicans hurt the Jazz beyond the arc connecting on 11 three pointers on 35.5% shooting from deep. The Thunder come into this matchup boasting a 35.5% clip from three on the season, so the Jazz will need to prioritize close outs and cutting down space in pick and roll situations.
Jazz Note #2: Bringing More of an Offensive Punch
The second key “Jazz Note” will be the Jazz’s second unit bringing more of an offensive punch. As I mentioned in our Jazz vs. Pelicans preview, the Jazz needed a solid bench contribution to contend with the Pelicans. Jordan Clarkson put up a ridiculous 23 points off the bench, but the rest of the second unit scored a combined four points. The Thunder’s bench averaged 49.3 points per game during their three scrimmages and the Jazz’s bench will need to match that intensity.
Jazz Note #3: Keep the Donovan and Rudy Chemistry Alive
My last key “Jazz Note” for the win is keeping the Donovan and Rudy chemistry alive. When Donovan and Rudy are on the same page offensively, their pick and roll is deadly. The Jazz will need strong offensive leadership from their two All-Stars throughout the entire game.
I’m predicting that the Jazz will have a strong start to the game but will not be able to match OKC’s bench production. The Jazz will fall 102-95 behind 20-point efforts from Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.
The game will be broadcast Saturday on ESPN at 1:30 PM MST.
Featured image courtesy SLC Dunk & USA Today.