The Utah Jazz hung tough without one of their key players to win 96-91 over the Oklahoma City Thunder to move on to the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
This game was a complete 180 from Game 5, as both teams ramped up the physicality to start the game, while being unable to score at a clip reminiscent to what they usually produce.
Ricky Rubio exited the game early in the first quarter after experiencing issues with a hamstring injury that he’s been playing through the entire series. Without their floor general, Utah looked lost offensively and the game was there for the taking for the Thunder.
Russell Westbrook smelled blood in the water and put up another spectacular one-man show for Oklahoma City. In the end, that was the problem for the Thunder. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony combined to score 12 points on 5/23 shooting; Steven Adams, for comparison, finished with 19 points by himself.
This game really turned in the third quarter. Neither team had a first half that they’d want to rewatch if given the chance, but after halftime the offense exploded on both sides. Westbrook paces the Thunder with 20 points in the third quarter. However, he was one-upped by Donovan Mitchell who would pour in 22 of his 38 points in the third quarter.
All series, Mitchell has found a way to answer the bell against Westbrook in Utah’s precious three victories and tonight was no different.
Here are three takeaways from the Jazz series-clinching win in Game 6.
Donovan Mitchell is here to stay: By definition, the Rookie of the Year, Donovan Mitchell proved that he was more than a flash in the pan over the duration of his rookie season. However, the postseason is when legends are cemented. Mitchell did that with his performance tonight. Ricky Rubio was forced to miss most of Game 6 against Oklahoma City due to a lingering hamstring injury. The Jazz offense sputtered without their maestro in the first half. Mitchell was not going that let that be the case post-halftime. The rookie exploded for 15 points in less than half of the third quarter. Mitchell would finish with 22 points in the third quarter alone; shooting a ridiculous 8/9 from the field. He splashed threes and slashed through the paint at will as the Thunder had no answer for him one-on-one. Foul trouble would cool him off in the fourth, but when his team needed him most Mitchell calmly stepped to the free throw line and knocked down the game-sealing free throws.
Point “Jingles”: With Rubio out, Mitchell wasn’t the only player that the Jazz relies on to do more. Joe Ingles became the de facto point guard for Utah. His ability to operate out of the pick-and-roll helped the Jazz to continue to use Oklahoma City’s switching defensive philosophy against them. When Rubio ran the show those pick-and-rolls usually resulted in open corner threes, but with Ingles not being a quick-twitch athlete he didn’t attack downhill against the Thunder and that meant focusing on the interior mismatches. The Australian routinely found Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert in the paint with guards trying to defend them. The heady play of Ingles stabilized Utah as their found their footing offensively after a slow start —a series low 18 points in the first quarter. When Mitchell went to the bench with five personal fouls with 10 minutes left in the game it was Ingles who paced the team to their biggest lead of the game down the stretch. Mitchell and Gobert are the names that the media has latched onto the most during the Jazz impressive turnaround this season, but Ingles has silently been one of their most important pieces all year.
Stay Mel-0: Russell Westbrook has been absolutely phenomenal for the Thunder the last two games (91 points scored total). However, the story this year in Oklahoma City has been Carmelo Anthony’s inability to bring “Olympic Melo” stateside this season. When the Thunder made the move late in the offseason to bring in the future Hall of Famer most foresaw this team being able to hit the heights it hasn’t seen since their previous big three of Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden were merely NBA babies. Yet, Oklahoma City was unable to ever sustain that level of play consistently to meet the lofty preseason expectations. Anthony made the news after Game 5 for a heated disputes he and Thunder assistant coach, Maurice Cheeks, got in over his lack of playing time. Once again it was NBA journeymen (Raymond Felton and Jerami Grant) getting the critical minutes ahead of Anthony as Oklahoma City attempted to extend the series another game. Anthony only saw the floor when the Thunder needed a three late on their final possession —and he ended up being an inbounds passer.
Anthony chipped in his second straight single digit scoring outing. The NBA has moved pass players of Melo’s mold and only time will tell if he’ll be able to adapt or not.