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    OK3 are headed to the exits - no thanks to an unheralded but resilient Jazz side

    Apr 25, 2018
    Russell Westbrook and OKC are a loss away from an early vacation. AP
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    CHICAGO - The Oklahoma City Thunder's Big 3 plus Steven Adams have a combined salary of $96.1 million this season, which is $32.6 million more than the total salary of the entire Utah Jazz starting five.

    And far as All-Star appearances go - Thunder 52. Utah, 0.

    In the popularity contest, reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are revered as rock stars while the Jazz, except for sensational rookie Donovan Mitchell, are as bland as sugar-free pound cake.

    But opposites attract and because Utah and Oklahoma hate each other like Kris Aquino and James Yap, we have a series to watch for.

    With the weapons at their disposal, you'd think the Thunder had wrapped up the series by now, but after taking Game One, 116-108, OKC has lost three in a row, culminating with Game Four's 113-96 blowout. So instead of preparing for a second-round series, the Thunder are facing elimination and should start making calls to their travel agents for early summer vacation plans.

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    Let's be clear, the Thunder did'n't just willingly give up this series, it was forcibly taken from them. OKC's wounds aren't self-inflicted. The low assists, the high turnovers, and the poor shot selection are a residue of Utah's defense. which happens to be the best in the NBA.

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    Game Four's stomping might not have officially clinched the series but it did open the door for the inevitable. Oklahoma is 0-for-11 all-time when trailing a series 1-3 while Utah is 8-0 all-time when leading the series 3-1.

    This unexpected turn didn't seem possible early in Game Four when the Jazz looked like masons laying bricks at the Vivint Smart Home Arena. In front of 18,306 home fans, Utah shot a mere 40 percent and trailed, 30-24 in the first quarter.

    And then Joe Ingles happened.

    Ingles, an Australian whose lefty stroke and beautifully high-arching shot evokes memories of the great Allan Caidic, drilled three 3s in the final 1:43 of the second quarter, turning the tide irreversibly for Utah. The indiscriminate outburst inspired the Jazz to flip a 49-47 deficit into a 20-point third-quarter lead.

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    After Ricky Rubio dealt a triple-double in Utah's Game Three win, a defiant Westbrook guaranteed to "shut that sh** off."

    It was a bold declaration. It also missed the point, like "losing sight of the forest for the trees."

    The Jazz, you see, aren't an aria. It is a symphony of many heavenly voices.

    Rubio was held to 13 points but the 27-year old Spaniard is as versatile as paella, serving up six rebounds and eight assists.

    On the strength of six 3-pointers, Ingles settled for 20 points. Robert Gobert had 16 points and 10 rebounds while Donovan Mitchell was fantastic, piercing OKC's defense like hot knife through a helpless dinner roll. The ROY candidate accounted for 33 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.

    The Thunder, meanwhile, made only 33 of 84 field goals and five of 26 threes. And they had an absurd 10 assists for the entire Game Four, 11 less than the share-friendly Jazz.

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    George had 32 points but it took him 21 field goals to get there. Melo missed 13 of 18 shots while Westbrook clunked 11 of 18 for 23 points. The All-Star trio, the Meek Musketeers, combined for 21 of 57 from the field and a horrendous 2-for-18 from 3-point range.

    OK3. Over. Rated.

    "Our defense, we felt it was solid enough to give us the opportunity to get some more looks," Utah head coach Quin Snyder told the Salt Lake Tribune why he remained confident despite his team's early offensive struggles.

    Damn, that Utah defense is deliciously frightening. It clogs the lanes for Westbrook, contests every shot by Melo and PG, and they doggedly run after 3-point shooters like mall security chasing shoplifters.

    Game Five is in Oklahoma, one the Thunder should win if they even have an iota of pride left.

    Game 6 is Utah's party. And shortly thereafter, the Jazz will fly to Houston.

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    Moral of the story?

    Basketball is a team sport. Big 3 is no match against an army who play for each other, happily fighting for one cause.

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    Russell Westbrook and OKC are a loss away from an early vacation. AP
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