They’ve also been really efficient against us in the halfcourt with their execution. There’s Carmelo, Paul George, Russell — they can score a lot of ways in the halfcourt. —Jazz coach Quin Snyder
SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz have a lot of things to worry about as they begin their best-of-seven playoff series with Oklahoma City, but one of the main tasks will be figuring out a way to slow down the Thunder’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
Those three average 63.5 points per game among them, third-best in the NBA for top-scoring trios in the league. Westbrook is the league’s reigning MVP, George is a five-time all-star, while Anthony is a 10-time all-star.
“It’s hard to pick one focus,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “They’ve turned us over a lot, and they create a lot of transition baskets. Russell Westbrook is the best, a one-man fast break, so obviously getting back and making that more difficult is important.”
Snyder said it’s more than transition where OKC is effective on offense.
“They’ve also been really efficient against us in the halfcourt with their execution,” Snyder added. “There’s Carmelo, Paul George, Russell — they can score a lot of ways in the halfcourt.”
Westbrook is especially tough to stop, and both Ricky Rubio and Donovan Mitchell will get their chances to guard him during the playoffs.
“He was the MVP last year and had another triple-double average this year, so it’s going to be hard,” said Rubio. “But it’s more the whole team rather than one-on-one guys.”
“He’s a force,” said Mitchell. “He doesn’t stop whether they’re up 20 or down 20, It’s a credit to him that he never gets tired. The biggest thing with us is being able to match the energy he brings and maintain it and if we can match the energy defensively we’ll be in good shape.”
Another big chore is keeping center Steven Adams off the offensive glass, where he ranks No. 1 in the NBA with 5.1 boards per game.
“He’s a very good player, he has good hands, he’s physical and he’s a smart player,” Utah’s Rudy Gobert said of Adams, who averages 13.9 ppg and 9.0 rpg. “It’s important to keep all of them off the glass. We know they’re a very good offensive rebounding team and, in basketball, if you want to get stops, you have to get the rebound.”
The Jazz will also need to limit their turnovers to keep the Thunder from getting out in transition. In their four games against OKC, the Jazz averaged 16 turnovers per game. Meanwhile, the Thunder lead the league in turnovers caused at 15.1 per game.
“Turnovers are huge, and they are one of the best teams in getting turnovers and running off numbers and in the open court,” said Rubio. “They are hard to stop and close out and they go to the glass hard and get a lot of offensive boards. We’ve got to stop that.”
The Thunder are an average-shooting team, ranking 16th in the NBA in field goal percentage at 45.3 percent and 23rd in 3-point percentage at 35.4 percent. In free throw percentage, the Thunder rank 29th, second-to-last in the league, at 71.6 percent.