Thunder Eliminate the Jazz, Advance to Western Conference Semifinals

Erik Gee

Oklahoma City, your nightmare is over; the Thunder is advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals! The Thunder eliminated the Utah Jazz in a hard-fought seven-game series that ends in Salt Lake City with Chris Paul coming up clutch again. 

It might be fantasy, but for Thunder faithful who had their hearts ripped out by Damien Lillard last season, any chance to move past the first round is welcome even if it is pretended.  Sports Illustrated is simulating the NBA playoffs to find a champion in case the season is canceled. 

SI is taking the standings as if the playoffs started today and matching teams up head to head. Oklahoma City would go into the postseason as the five seed to face Utah in a rematch of the 2018 quarterfinals. 

Michael Shapiro believes the Thunder's closing line up will be too much for the Jazz to overcome.  We can't exit round one without a single upset, and Chris Paul continuing his revenge tour would mark perhaps the best story of the season.

 And an Oklahoma City victory isn't out of the question. Utah could have serious trouble containing the Thunder's three-headed guard monster, and the Jazz doesn't have a definite second playmaker next to Donovan Mitchell if Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson struggle, Paul and the Thunder have a path to round two.

Where I disagree with Shapiro is if the Thunder win, it won't be an upset. Oklahoma City is 1-1 vs. Utah, with both games being played at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Game one came on opening night Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scores 26, with Danilo Gallinari and Chris Paul scoring 21 and 22. 

The Thunder's downfall was going 21 of 31 from the charity stripe. Still not bad for a bunch of guys who had only been together a few weeks. In-game two, the Thunder landed in Utah short-handed and tired. 

Not only were the Thunder down Danilo Gallinari, Terrance Ferguson Deonte Burton, and Hamidou Diallo, they were on the second of back to back and playing their third game in four nights. You would have understood if this crew wore down at some point, but they didn't. Five Thunder scored in double figures Dennis Schroder leading the way with 27 points off the bench. 

The Thunder came away with a 104-90 win. Since moving to Oklahoma City, the Thunder are 32-13 vs. the Jazz, including a 13-11 record on the road. I don't think this series goes seven. 

Although the Thunder's bench is ranked 9th in the NBA and the Jazz's 7th Oklahoma City's reserves have outscored Utah's 66-49 in the two matchups this season.  Plus with the Thunder are 25-5 in clutch games, which always bodes well in the playoffs.

 They've also won 16 games when trailing in the fourth quarter. Billy Donovan says the regular season is not a good indicator of what will happen the playoffs. But, even he has to feel this group is more equipped to advance than in years past. 

  The Thunder are the most selfless team in the association center Nerlens Noel says, "Simply, it's a lot of good guys in the locker room."..." Everybody cares about each other's success."..." When you have guys like Diallo (Hamidou), CP (Chris Paul), and the veterans we have in the locker room, it just makes it that much easier." 

Unfortunately, the Thunder will bow out in the second round when they fall to the Lakers. Paul's run will end by the second round, but again, don't expect the Thunder to go down without a fight. Oklahoma City's crowd would be rabid in a matchup against the Lakers, and one hot night from Dennis Schroder is likely in store. But this series won't be close as Los Angeles cruises to the Western Conference finals.

I guess the good news is the LeBron and company go on to win the finals in six over the Bucks.  Since this is fantasy, Gallinari and Noel resign and an experienced Thunder head into to 2020-2021 as a severe threat in the Western Conference.