Going into the playoff series between the two teams, the Oklahoma City Thunder enjoyed a massive advantage in star power over the Jazz.
The Thunder feature a roster comprised of three players with All-Star history, including two this season in Paul George and Russell Westbrook. Late in his career, Carmelo Anthony is a 10-time All-Star capable of playing well in spurts. The Jazz number zero in the All-Atar category.
Sure enough, the All-Stars shined the brightest in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series in the first round. The Jazz could not match the firepower of the trio of George, Westbrook, and Anthony in the Thunder’s 116-108 win Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Jazz, fresh off a better-than-expected regular season, are a team with developing stars in Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Both acquitted themselves well enough in the playoff opener, especially Mitchell, but in a simple case of mathematics they were outnumbered.
Three is greater than two every time.
And George was greater than all of them. Two months away from becoming a free agent, George dominated in scoring a game-high 36 points on an impressive 13 of 20 shooting, including a blistering 8 of 11 on three-point shots.
“He really, really got it going offensively,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan. “He made some shots.”
The Jazz simply didn’t get enough help to supplement Mitchell and Gobert. To have any hope of winning the series, the likes of Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Dante Exum need to make far greater contributions.
“Not to single out our bench from our starters, we just need to play better,” said coach Quin Snyder.
Despite a valiant effort, Donovan Mitchell cannot be expected to carry the load by himself on offense. Yet, that was the case in the third quarter, when the rookie single-handedly tried to get the game close.
If teammates can follow Mitchell’s lead, the Jazz have a chance to compete in the series. Without more help, the Jazz could have a short stay in the playoffs.
Forget about being wide-eyed in your first postseason appearance. Playing on a sore toe much of the second half, the brilliant Mitchell ended with 27 points and 10 rebounds.
If toughness is an important attribute, which it is, Mitchell already is an elite All-Star. Midway through the fourth quarter, already having been in the locker room for treatment and X-rays on his toe, Mitchell came out of the game but then argued with Snyder to let him return.
Mitchell, who became the first rookie since LeBron James to have at least 27 points and 10 rebounds in his first playoff game, wants to see better movement on offense in Game 2 on Wednesday. He thought the offense got stagnant.
“We didn’t really move the ball like we normally do,” Mitchell said.
As he has done much of this season, Mitchell played well right from the start as the Jazz opened a 16-4 lead. But the advantage quickly evaporated and the game was tied at 25-25 after the first half.
“Once we got back in transition and set our defense we were in a better position,” Donovan said.
Aside from the second quarter in which they were outscored 29-23, the Jazz never really got blown away. For all of the second half, Oklahoma City actually held only a two-point advantage, although part of the margin was reduced by Alec Burks coming off the bench to score 10 points in the final two minutes.
With three days until the next game, each team has plenty of time to make adjustments. The Thunder expect a much different game the second time around.
“I think Game 2 will be harder than it was today,” Billy Donovan said. “We’re playing against a really good team on both sides of the floor.”