We all know that Damian Lillard must play well for the Trail Blazers to beat the Thunder Tuesday night at the Rose Garden. Conversely, everyone in Oklahoma City knows that Russell Westbrook must keep his shot selection under control or the Thunder will be in trouble.
But what role player will make the biggest difference in tonight’s game? Here are my nominees:
Aminu attempted only one 3-pointer in game one. I say “only” because that has decidedly not been the norm for him in playoff games in recent years — he’s averaging over six per game the last three years.
The Blazers didn’t need Chief’s 3-pointers on Sunday night, with plenty of other players stepping up to fill the void. Presumably the Thunder defense will correct that and Aminu will get repeated clean looks tonight.
The refs were not shy with their whistles during game one. For the most part, that helped the Blazers as it seemed to knock the usually physical Thunder out of rhythm a bit. Moe Harkless was the one exception — struggling with foul trouble he played only 21 minutes and had more fouls (5) than points (2).
This was in stark contrast to the revitalized Harkless we’ve all been watching since the all-star break:
Layman's biggest contribution this year arguably was lighting a fire under Harkless' ass. (stats from https://t.co/ICalye9Jrp) pic.twitter.com/N43FUFGNQz— Eric Griffith (@EricG_NBA) April 10, 2019
Schroder played aggressively on Sunday. That’s about the only positive thing you can say about him.
The Thunder’s sixth man went 0-for-7 on 3-pointers and finished with just 11 points on 17 total field goal attempts. Those are Russell Westbrook on an off-night numbers. Yuck.
Nevertheless, Schroder is the one player off the bench for the Thunder who can continue to put pressure on the Blazers defense when their starters are resting (insert Raymond Felton joke here). If he can match Seth Curry and Rodney Hood in production, and not just raw shot attempts, it will be a major shot in the arm for the Thunder’s bench.
Aminu was mostly fine. Harkless was anonymous. Zach Collins was awful.
Despite the underwhelming performances from the Blazers other forwards, Layman did not see a second of action on Sunday. You have to imagine that if the rest of the frontcourt continues to underwhelm, head coach Terry Stotts will eventually be forced to call Layman’s number.
If Jake can play solid defense and create some hustle buckets his contributions will already outpace what we saw from Harkless and Collins in game one. After his impressive regular season, there’s reason to hope that Layman can be the change-of-pace bench player the Blazers need if all other options fail.
Paul George’s shouder
Was Paul George’s 4-for-15 performance on 3-pointers on Sunday a consequence of his hurting shoulder? Or just cold shooting?
He has looked worse since the shoulder injury first forced him to miss games:
Paul George stats before/after missing 3 games with shoulder soreness:— Eric Griffith (@EricG_NBA) April 15, 2019
Net Rtg: +9.7/+3.0
Thunder Win%: 62.7/47.4
Equivalent to dropping from 14th to 82nd in net rating.
And drop from 75th percentile to 33rd percentile in TS% (forwards only). https://t.co/ee8zWwefYc
But poor shooting also wasn’t completely unheard of this season from George:
Paul George's awful 3-point shooting wasn't unheard of for him this season. 26.7% is his 11th worst 3% game of the season (78 total games) -- 7 of those came before he missed games at end of Feb. with shoulder soreness.https://t.co/k0hilMuZLx— Eric Griffith (@EricG_NBA) April 15, 2019
It’s kind of cheating to say that George could be an X-factor given his superstar status, but it certainly looks like there’s a possibility his shoulder swings this series.
Harkless, Aminu, Schroder, Layman, or George’s shoulder? Who’s your X-Factor? Let us know in the comments!