With about two minutes left and the Jazz trailing by a bunch, Quin Snyder swapped out most of his starters in favor of bench players. There followed almost immediately an 8-1 Utah run, which caused several folks to think, but never to say, “What in the cotton-pickin’ heck is going on here?” The Jazz, who had been trailing by 18 earlier in the quarter, suddenly were down only seven. Reasoning, I guess, that Utah was going to have to foul to get some late-game possessions, Billy Donovan pulled Steven Adams, the only Thunder player who’d missed a free throw to that point. The Jazz did indeed foul, Carmelo Anthony sank a pair, and that was that: Oklahoma City 116, Utah 108, and those of you who had “Thunder in six” presumably smiled quietly to yourselves. Maybe even “Thunder in five.”
Four? It’s possible, but not likely; the Jazz can shoot (47 percent), and even if you bottle up Rudy Gobert, they have plenty of other weapons. Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell, who averaged better than 20 points a game during the regular season, collected 27 tonight, along with ten rebounds. Alec Burks, who’d fallen out of the rotation of late, led that late-game comeback with ten points in a hurry. And Joe Ingles is, I think, underrated as a playmaker. Against this array of talent, the Thunder came up with more of the same, and it worked: Russell Westbrook just shy of a triple-double with 29-13-8, Paul George banging down eight of 11 three-pointers (he had 36 points total), and a bench which didn’t score a whole lot but which finished solidly plus on a night when Westbrook was technically minus-one.
Wednesday is Game Two, and then it’s off to Salt Lake City for Three, Four, and (if necessary) Six. You guys who had “Thunder in five” can speak up now.