OKLAHOMA CITY — For the first time this season, uniforms weren't the only things that made the pro basketball team from the Beehive State resemble the Utah Jazz.
On Sunday night, the players sporting the J-note logos actually looked and played like a Jerry Sloan-coached, Deron Williams-led, well-executing NBA machine.
After consecutive clunkers to open the 2010-11 season, the Jazz rocked and shocked the Northwest Division favorite Oklahoma City Thunder and showed their revamped potential in a much-needed 120-99 victory at the Ford Center.
On this Halloween night, these guys' costumes and results were quite convincing.
"We proved that we can play defense," Jazz power forward Paul Millsap said. "We proved that we can move the ball like we're supposed to. We proved that we can make shots, and hopefully we can start a string of wins."
Sure beats the alternative.
Not only was it the first of the season after back-to-back double-digit losses, but it also prevented Utah from starting 0-3 for the first time since the inaugural season in Salt Lake City back in 1979.
"This is huge," Millsap said. "Especially starting 0-2, to come into a hostile environment with this good team like the Thunder, to come out with a win — that's good for our team."
And Millsap was one of the many reasons why the Jazz got the chance to thoroughly enjoy being on the other side of a blowout for a change.
The Jazz's starting forward had a monstrous night, scoring 30 points, hauling in 16 rebounds, dishing out six assists and looking like he could be the next Jazz big man to merit All-Star consideration.
Center Al Jefferson had a quick description for Millsap's effort.
"One word," he said. "Beast."
That description was fitting for the team, which came out with a high energy and execution level that was missing from the two lopsided losses.
Pitted against up-and-comer Russell Westbrook, point guard Deron Williams had his own beast of a night making the Jazz offense go and flow. Williams scored 16 points, pulled down six rebounds and had a season-high 15 assists in an enthusiastic effort reminiscent of his previous All-Star performances.
"He was terrific all night long," Sloan said. "He had 15 assists and all of them were terrific plays. It just made our execution look like we knew what we were doing."
The key for Williams?
"That's what yelling at people gets done," Williams joked, poking fun of how he got heat for giving rookie Gordon Hayward heat last week.
Scowls and growls were replaced by smiles and high-fives after the Jazz got things going from early on.
Utah took its first lead of the season at 5-4 on an Andrei Kirilenko 3-pointer, and the Jazz soon went on an 8-0 run that helped them take a 27-23 lead at the end of the first quarter.
That momentum continued through the second quarter, and the Jazz's outside stroke, inside hustle and defensive intensity on Kevin Durant and company helped Utah take a 56-40 halftime advantage.
Going into the locker room, Durant, the small forward phenom who dropped 45 points on Utah last March, had only hit 3 of 11 shots for nine points thanks to some pestering defense by the 6-foot-9 Kirilenko.
Durant finished with what felt like a quiet 28 points, but most of his offensive production came after the Jazz's game-high lead had ballooned to 27 in the third quarter.
"A.K. did a great job on Durant in that first half and made things tough on him," Williams said.
"I think tonight we did a pretty good job to kind of force him to take bad shots rather than good shots," Kirilenko added. "Make him play uncomfortable game."
Meanwhile, the Jazz offense was quite comfortable.
C.J. Miles found his shooting touch to score 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting off the bench. Kirilenko put up 19 points for the second straight game, and Jefferson totaled his first double-double in a Jazz uniform with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Overall, the Jazz shot 53 percent and finished with 32 assists on 44 field goals. Utah struggled for a while against a suffocating OKC press, which allowed the Thunder to pull within 15 in the third, but the Jazz regrouped and finished strong.
"We need all that. Andrei made some shots. Paul Millsap had a terrific game," Sloan said. "I thought everybody that played, played hard, and we had to beat this team here or anywhere really because they're very difficult for us to guard."26 comments on this story
Conversely, the previously unbeaten Thunder (2-1) only dished out 10 assists and shot 40 percent in a surprising mismatch. Durant even said OKC didn't have energy and got out-executed — something strikingly similar to what the Jazz were recently saying.
"We got outplayed tonight right from the start," said OKC coach Scott Brooks, whose Thunder won three of four against Utah last season. "The better team won tonight and there's nothing else you can say about it. They outplayed us in all phases of the game — passing, shooting, defending, rebounding, scoring in the paint."
As far as the Jazz are concerned, it's about time that came out of the mouth of somebody not associated with the team in Utah uniforms.
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