Oklahoma City • Utah’s meltdown was as sensational as Oklahoma City’s comeback.
On Friday night, the Jazz will have Game 6 at home in what has been a contentious Western Conference first-round playoff series. Winning on the road in Game 2 has allowed Utah the chance to close out on its home floor.
But it’s an opportunity the Jazz never should have needed.
Wednesday night’s 107-99 loss to Oklahoma City at Chesapeake Energy Arena could sting the Jazz mightily. Utah took a 71-46 lead midway through the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Jae Crowder — and blew it all as the Thunder executed the fourth-largest comeback in NBA playoff history.
Now, Utah will have to find a way to win this series for a second time.
“It was do or die for them,” Jazz forward Joe Ingles said. “It still is. They came out, and they put it all out there.”
Still, the Jazz have to be concerned that they awoke a sleeping giant. Until Wednesday night, Utah held OKC star Russell Westbrook in check. The Jazz hadn’t allowed him into the paint, shutting off his perimeter game, and generally not allowing him to have an impact.
That ended on Wednesday night in Game 5.
Westbrook turned in a performance for the ages, scoring 45 points — 33 of them in the second half — while grabbing 15 rebounds and handing out seven assists, the exact same statistical line LeBron James put up against the Boston Celtics in a 2012 Game 6 Eastern Conference finals performance that many consider one of the greatest individual performances ever.
Westbrook was sensational. He went 17 of 39 from the field and hit five 3-pointers in the second half. He made all six of his free throws. Whenever the Thunder needed a bucket, he provided it. And he also received a bunch of help in the form of Paul George scoring 34 points.
“He’s a great player,” said Jazz forward Derrick Favors of Westbrook. “He’s an All-Star. He made a lot of tough shots, and he was able to get them back into the game.”
Yes, the Thunder played their way back into the game after trailing by 25 points. But, they were aided by a Jazz offense that took too many quick shots, turned the ball over too many times, and didn’t generate a lot of good looks as things got tough.
And then there was the foul trouble. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors picked up five fouls each in the second half, with both having to spend major stretches of the fourth quarter on the bench. Their absence turned Utah’s normally stingy post defense into an open highway. Time and again, OKC players drove to the hoop and either finished at the rim or found floaters in the middle of the paint. Eventually, Westbrook and George were in such a rhythm, there was no way for the Jazz to stop them.
“When Rudy went out, that impacted us,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “That being said, our offensive struggles impacted our defense.”
The Jazz still own a 3-2 series lead and control their destiny in advancing to the Western Conference semifinals, where the Houston Rockets await.
But now, the road has gotten more difficult. Wednesday’s second half overshadows what to that point had been a masterful performance.
Crowder led six Jazz players in double figures with 27 points, a career high. Donovan Mitchell scored 23 points. But the Jazz shot 40 percent from the field and committed 16 turnovers, double OKC’s total. After shooting 8 of 16 from 3-point range in the first half, Utah was 5 of 22 in the second half.
“Russ got it going, and it was tough to stop him,” Favors said. “But we gotta hit some shots when they’ve got it going. We gotta do better next game as a team, as a whole. We have to try and make it tougher for them.”