Utah Jazz: No comeback this time as Jazz fall to Thunder
SALT LAKE CITY — Monday night's game had most of the ingredients of the Utah Jazz's not-so-secret comeback recipe.
Twelve navy-blue J-note road uniforms, one All-Star performance by Deron Williams, three points from Paul Millsap beyond the arc in crunch time and two strong rallies.
Two strong rallies? Yep, and that part proved to be the problem for the Jazz. For a change, the Comeback Crew's late-game revival wasn't as good as its opponents' resurgence.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (6-4) pulled a Jazz, copycatting the craziest Comeback Crew in the land by overcoming an early double-digit deficit and then fending off the inevitable Utah fourth-quarter surge to stun a sold-out and raucous EnergySolutions Arena crowd with a 115-108 victory.
"We tried hard, I think. We've been very concentrated, but we couldn't make a shot the last couple of possessions, and that kind of cost us the game," Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko said. "That's a tough game. That's all I can say."
The Jazz, wearing the road uniforms at home in one of their two pre-selected games, stuck to their M.O. and turned it into a thriller after seeing their 12-point lead turn into a 13-point deficit. But OKC had too many weapons and too many defensive answers for Utah to battle back against and its five-game win streak was snapped.
Kevin Durant had his usual 30 points, but the Jazz were doomed by 22-point outings from Russell Westbrook and fill-in starter Serge Ibaka, along with an incredibly clutch 33-for-34 night at the charity stripe.
"They got to the free-throw line 34 times to our 22, so that's the difference in the ballgame," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "We don't have anybody to defend that. I'm going to get somebody to defend the free throws. Maybe the Bear can come out and knock them down once in a while and see if that helps us."
Unlike on their road swing when they struggled in the first half, paving the way for their unprecedented double-digit second-half comebacks, the energy and execution were both there from the get-go for Utah in its first home game in nine days.
Williams, who ended with 31 points, 11 assists and five rebounds, thought he was Millsap and hit three consecutive 3-pointers to finish with 16 first-quarter points.
That sparked the Jazz to step on unfamiliar territory by going ahead by a dozen points in the opening quarter.
Utah (7-4) even had a strong push just before the end of the game, cutting OKC's lead to as little as two and whittling it down to three with 57 seconds remaining on a strong Williams drive. Kirilenko missed a wild inside shot with 20.9 seconds left with Utah still behind by three, and the Thunder outscored the Jazz 6-2 in the final 17.7 seconds.
"I thought they played extremely well," Sloan said of OKC. "They made their shots, every time we tried to give a little help here and there they seemed to hit the right man and they made their shots."
What really proved fatal to the Jazz's living-on-the-edge formula was the middle of the game. Utah was outscored 66-52 in the middle two quarters, including a third period in which OKC hit a sizzling 15-of-21 shots.
"You look at those second and third quarters where they scored 31 and 35 points. That is way too many points to give up in a quarter," Williams said. "They shot 50 percent, that is too high to shoot. It all points to defense. We did a better job executing tonight, but we didn't get enough stops."
Sloan called Utah's down-the-stretch execution "a little helter-skelter a couple of times." Still, the Jazz coach gave his team props for not giving up again on this night.
"These guys, they've done a terrific job," Sloan said. "It's a tough game to come back and play a team in your division after a long trip and come home and you have one day to prepare for them.
"That's not an excuse, that's pretty much a fact," Sloan added. "I think you have to give them credit, they came in here and won the game."
And the Thunder stole one from the Jazz playbook in doing so.
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