The opening weekend of the NBA Playoffs included a 116-108 Oklahoma City Thunder win over the Utah Jazz. “Playoff P” (Paul George) introduced himself to the Thunder home crowd, and Donovan Mitchell showed toughness by playing through an injury/pain. Regardless of how this series turns out, the outcome could affect both franchises in different ways. Building through the NBA Draft and free agency in the off-season is no easy task. Each team will, of course, look to improve their respective rosters. I spoke with fellow Basketball Society writer Evan Anderson discuss what could be in play for each team moving forward:
Felix: What’s up Evan? What an opening weekend! As I watched Game 1, it seemed to me like the Jazz were outmatched. I know Paul George had an insane shooting night, but it appeared that whenever Russell Westbrook was in attack mode, the Jazz had no answer. What stood out to you?
STOP IT PAUL GEORGE. DON'T HURT EM LIKE THAT! #NBAPlayoffs
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Evan: What up Felix? Russell Westbrook did his usual thing out there and dominated on offense. He consistently knocked down the mid-range jump shot, making it look mechanical over his defenders like Demarre Carroll and Ricky Rubio. I love how he was able to draw in defenders when posting up or driving to the rim because it was easy for the outside kick. His explosion from one side of the court to the other on the fast break is so quick, it’s scary. When he’s in attack mode, he takes it all the way to the rim which gives him that extra acceleration to jump higher over defenders for the layup. Dropping 29 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists, Russell controlled the game and if he continues to play like that, it’ll be a scary sight for Utah.
Felix: Donovan Mitchell also comfortably introduced himself to the playoffs, notching 27 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists. What surprised me the most was his eagerness to get back in the game after he suffered a leg injury. Go ahead and add “grit” to his rookie resume. I know the Rookie of the Year award is a different topic for another day, but this kid didn’t seem scared of the moment at all.
Donovan Mitchell did NOT want to come out here. #NBAPlayoffs
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Evan: No he didn’t at all. He didn’t look or play as though this was his first NBA Playoff game. At the beginning of the game, Mitchell looked comfortable out there playing his normal, playmaking style and finishing at the rim with aggression. Finishing with 27 points and 10 rebounds, he’s developing the leadership role this team needs and will only grow if they can take control of this series after falling behind 1-0. It surprised me as well that Mitchell showed his emotions about hopping back into the game after being shaken up by a leg injury, but that just shows his competitiveness and willingness to win.
Felix: If the Thunder win this series, that puts them one step closer to The Finals than they were last year. While they were severely undermanned and lost 4-1 in the first round to Houston last year, this year can be different. We all have lamented their lack of a bench unit this go round, but with a Big 3 that potent, anything is possible. One could say that their main focus is to impress Paul George enough that he decides to re-up with the squad in the off-season. Do you think that can happen?
Evan: Absolutely, but honestly right now isn’t the time to worry about the offseason. Yes, the big question is where will Paul George, aka “Playoff P”, end up next season, but right now it’s playoff time. The focus is to compete to their highest potential against every opponent they face in way of an NBA championship. If the Thunder plan on trying to keep PG next year, then the playoffs now are very crucial. They have to be determined to continue with this Big 3, winning games and advancing, so that there’s a less chance of the team splitting up in the offseason.
Felix: Contrary to the Thunder, the Jazz’s fortunes are the opposite. It appears that they have their building blocks in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, and will likely fill out the roster around them. Utah is not a hot location for free agents to flock to, but do you think that core can attract a superstar?
Evan: Not so much. Rudy Gobert is a great big man who can defend well enough to be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year and Donovan Mitchell has been in the running for Rookie of the Year. I think it will be determined by how far they can make it in the playoffs; because if they can’t make it anywhere, free agents will skip over that city. They should consider it though, because like you said they’re looking to build around Mitchell and Gobert so if they could add one or two more solid pieces in free agency, they will make noise!
Felix: While the Jazz are young and growing, the Thunder are filled with veterans that are in “win now” mode. The Jazz can take the next few years to build a well rounded supporting cast, while the Thunder will probably look to score big in free agency this off-season. If the Thunder can find some nice pieces to surround the Big 3 in the summer, they may be in a position to cause damage next season. Which team do you think is in a better position to win a title in the next 5 years?
Evan: In the next 5 years, I would say the Thunder because of Russell Westbrook and who he’ll attract to OKC. We see now how the Big 3 of Russ, PG, and Melo are contributing together on the court. If this 3 and the addition of another all-star joins the party within the next 5 years, they will be a problem. The only chance I can see the Utah Jazz being in the better position is if Donovan Mitchell can grow from his fantastic rookie season and become one of the best shooting guards in the game so that free agents will be interested in collaborating with him.
Felix: Now that we got the future questions out the way, who wins Game 2 of this series? I picked OKC in the latest episode of the Pump Fake to the Altar podcast, and I think they successfully defend home court in Game 2.
Evan: I’m sticking with my original statement. I have OKC winning in 6 or 7, but from the looks of the first game of the series, it’s leaning more towards 6. OKC wins Game 2.