How OKC erased the largest deficit in Thunder history
By: A. Suave Francisco
Just before the 8:32 mark of the third quarter, the Thunder trailed the Jazz 71-46. Elimination was on the horizon, the normally supportive home crowd began booing their team and all indicators pointed towards the 'Big 3' experiment being an absolute bust after only one season.
Amidst possibly the worst stretch of four games by Russell Westbrook, he found a way to channel his inner Kobe Bryant by fueling the fifth-largest comeback in NBA Playoffs history and the largest comeback in Thunder history, period. They fought back from being down 25 points halfway through the third quarter to eventually defeat Utah 107-99.
Due to the extremes of this game, a normal recap would drive you to utter insanity, so documenting some of the biggest differences in the final 21:28 will be far more effective.
First and foremost, Russell Westbrook. The reigning MVP was verbally slammed throughout the entire series and deservedly so. He wasn't playing well, he was a team-low -45 for the series, and his averages were down pretty much across the board.
The narrative surrounding his name was him being a player that wasn't capable of leading a team to success, even with this caliber of talent.
In the second half, that changed. He proved why he's Russell Westbrook; a player that can annoy you more than your own child, but make you happier than your significant other ever could. At halftime, Westbrook tallied only 12 points and was continuing his subpar performance in the playoffs. He then proceeded to score 33 points over the final 21 minutes of the game.
It was initiated by Westbrook and it resonated throughout the team and that was attacking the basket. One of the most obvious weaknesses of the Utah Jazz is playing without Rudy Gobert. He's been the common denominator during this series (despite Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio). Thus, OKC getting him in foul trouble and knocking him out of the game for an extended period of time was monumental. One was biggest reasons they pulled off the comeback.
By the time he checked back into the game, OKC had the momentum and Gobert basically had to catch up.
Carmelo Anthony definitely has his place on this team but it's not in the starting lineup and in this series, not in crunch time.
Jerami Grant checked in for Anthony at the 7:19 mark of the first quarter and almost simultaneously, the Thunder kicked it into their highest gear of the series.
It's not so much that Anthony isn't a good player, he's just not the swift, sharpshooter that he used to be and that feeds right into the hands of Utah, who likes to slow the pace down. Jerami Grant, however, can run with Westbrook and George. He can keep up. His athleticism proved to be beneficial in the second half of this basketball game and that's something coach Donovan has to note heading into Game 6.
Alex Abrines, who just hit a single three, wasn't a significant impact offensively but the former laughing-point of OKC's defense showed up and showed out when it mattered most. During OKC's run, Abrines played tough, hard-nosed defense on Mitchell. That's something OKC has obviously failed to do all season.
Lastly, Billy Donovan finally made the decision to stray away from his normal rotation by playing Westbrook and George the entire second half. Also, having the courage to pull Anthony when the team most needed it.
Oklahoma City isn't out of the woods yet. They still have to return to Utah for a tough Game 6 on Friday evening but at least they'll live to see another day of the NBA Playoffs and hopefully, they won't forget to pack Game 5's momentum on their road trip back to Utah for Game 6.
Utah leads the series 3-2.