Not MVP candidate Paul George, not former MVP winner Russell Westbrook and not Oklahoma City Thunder big man Steven Adams were the reason the Thunder recorded their first win of the first round series match up against the Portland Trailblazers 120-108 but it was the most improved player of the year candidate Jerami Grant that was the x-factor in the Thunder getting their first win.
Grant finished the Thunder’s first win with a stat line of 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting at 85.7 percent and a phenomenal 4-of-5 from three-point range for a percentage of 80 percent. Grant also went perfect from the free throw line going 2-of-2. It was a desperately needed performance for the Thunder from their rising star big man who had struggled in the Thunder’s first two games of the series against the Trailblazers on the road. Grant was integral to the Thunder stopping a fourth-quarter comeback with some great coaching from Coach Billy Donovan who switched Grant onto current Trailblazers big man and former Thunder big man Enes Kanter. Grant with his athletic ability was able to limit Kanter’s impact on the boards as Kanter only recorded one offensive rebound in the fourth.
Grant was coming off a rough two game start to the series averaging six points on 1.5-of-7.5 shooting at 20 percent from the field and 0-of-8 from three-point range after shooting 39.2 percent for the regular season which was the best for the team for the regular season. Grant was also a minus 19.5 on the floor for the first two games of the series. Like some of his teammates, it was in game two that Grant struggles the most shooting 1-of-7 from the field and 0-of-5 from three-point range. Grant also struggled from the free-throw line in game two shooting 3-of-6 at 50 percent when he had been a 71 percent free-throw shooter for the season. Grant finished the game a minus 26 for the Thunder.
For the Thunder to fight their way back into this series Grant had to step up and show why he has been the most crucial trade General Manager Sam Presti has made in his mini reconstruction of the franchise. Throughout the season Thunder fans had come a custom to Grant hitting three’s as he had made it a regular thing hitting 1.4-of-3.7 for the season, but Thunder fans saw in games one and two the real value of Grant and his three-point shot. In game three of the series, Grant hit 4-of-5, and it gave the Thunder such a gigantic weapon on offense that had been missing in their first two games. With Grant hitting at 80 percent it gave Westbrook another threat on the perimeter that made the Trailblazers have to focus on a different problem other than just Westbrook and George.
If the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to make the comeback and win this series it is vital to this team that Jerami Grant hits his three-point shot not just in game four at home but also game five back in Portland. Grant shot the ball from three on the road at 39.5 percent which was .5 percent better than when he was playing at home. In wins this season Grant is averaging per game 14.4 points on 5.4-of-10.2 shooting at 52.7 percent from the field and 1.6-of-3.6 from three at 43.4 percent also 5.5 rebounds per game. In losses Grant’s averages fall to 12.5 points on 4.8-of-10.5 shooting at 45.4 percent and 1.2-of-3.7 from three-point range at 33.1 percent and 4.7 rebounds per game. Grant is also a plus 10.6 in wins and minus 6.5 in games the Thunder loses.
Apart from the Oklahoma City Thunder’s two biggest stars in Russell Westbrook and Paul George, there is a strong case that says Jerami Grant is the Thunder’s most integral player to the team’s success. If the Thunder are going to advance to round two of the playoffs and play either the Denver Nuggets or the San Antonio Spurs Grant will need to play as he did in game three and not the way he did in game two.
How good of a trade was this by Sam Presti by the way. Jerami Grant and a trade exception for Ersan Ilyasova and a protected draft pick. WOW!