Secondary players key in Thunder, Jazz series
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The two most pivotal players in the first-round series between Oklahoma City and Utah are the Thunder's Russell Westbrook and the Jazz's Rudy Gobert.
That happens when one is perhaps the most athletic player in the league and regularly gets to the rim against virtually everyone and the other is the 7-foot-1 rim protector.
But Paul George and Donovan Mitchell are very important too, for their teams.
In the Thunder's 116-108 Game 1 win, George was mostly lights-out for Oklahoma City. He hit 8-of-11 from behind the 3-point line and scored 36 points to help lift the Thunder.
Mitchell, one of the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors, scored 27 points in his playoff debut, going 11-of-22 from the floor.
Entering Wednesday night's Game 2, both are hobbled.
While both George and Mitchell are officially listed as questionable, George with a hip contusion and Mitchell with a left foot contusion, there's little doubt they will both play even after they were both limited in practice Tuesday.
The question is, though, how effective will either be after suffering their injuries Sunday.
Mitchell brushed off the injury after the game. He initially returned after suffering the injury but came out of the game for good about a minute later.
"I just stubbed my toe," Mitchell said. "Nothing major."
George was hurt driving on Gobert in the second quarter.
"I fell on my left side and from there is just got a little sore on me," George said, adding that it was an aggravation of an injury he suffered March 13 against Atlanta.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan said it would largely be up to George how much he was able to play.
"Paul's a tough guy," Donovan said. "Paul wants to be out there. We're never going to put a player's health at risk in any way. So, I think that's probably going to be a little bit more of his decision on how he's feeling in terms of the way he's moving."
In addition to Mitchell being ready to contribute, the Jazz also need Ricky Rubio to play under control if they are to head back home for Game 3 with a tied series.
The seventh-year guard is making his first playoff appearance and went 5-of-18 from the field, finishing with 13 points.
"Well, some of them were good shots, some of them not," Rubio told the Salt Lake Tribune. "Just have to do a better job on getting involved (with) some of my teammates sometimes. Do a better job of knowing when to shoot and when to pass the ball."
For the Thunder, being able to deal with Utah's tough, hard-nosed defense -- keyed by Gobert -- remains a major point of emphasis.
"I think the word 'physicality' gets used in a way that sometimes people think it's just, like, guys banging into each other," Donovan said. "Some of it is just really getting over screens, legally and physically getting over it, trying to avoid being screened. Some of it is running back in transition and being able to get into spots where you can absorb drives. Some of it is, there's a pick-and-roll and someone's rolling to the basket and being there to provide help."
Updated April 17, 2018