They’re a really good rotation team and their perimeter players are long and have active hands. We should have attacked them earlier and driven straight at them and then you can dump it off. We played a little too passive. —Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz forward
SALT LAKE CITY — Judging by the final stats, Tuesday's contest between Utah and Oklahoma City looked like a pretty even game.
Both teams shot 39 percent from the field. The Thunder grabbed just three more rebounds. Both teams had 19 fouls. And the Jazz blocked one more shot.
But check out the turnovers.
The Jazz committed 17 on the night compared to just nine for OKC. That discrepancy turned out to be the difference in the ballgame.
It started in the first two minutes with a couple of Jazz turnovers and continued until the final minute when a big turnover ended any faint hopes the Jazz had of perhaps forcing overtime in a 90-80 Oklahoma City victory.
Turnovers were the first thing Utah coach Tyrone Corbin mentioned in his postgame press conference.
“I think the turnovers were the key,’’ he said. “We turned the ball over 17 times. They scored 16 points off them and the pace of the game was slow — a grind-out kind of game. We can’t afford to miss opportunities. We couldn’t get a good steady flow.’’
Corbin gave more credit to the opponents’ defense than his own team’s carelessness when asked what the problem was.
“Their pressure,’’ he said. “We turned some over, but it’s a good defensive team. They got us off of our spots and we rushed it at times to try to get the ball to where we wanted and made mistakes.’’
Jazz point guard Mo Williams, who had five turnovers, agreed with his coach.
“They’re long and they get in the passing lanes," said Williams. "The passes you normally get through, they do a great job of getting in the passing lanes with their athleticism and that caused a lot of the turnovers.’’
Williams made the first turnover of the night in the opening minute on a traveling violation and a minute or so later Gordon Hayward threw the ball away. By the end of the quarter, Utah had six TOs compared to one for OKC, a big reason it was 26-19 for the Thunder.
“They’re a really good rotation team and their perimeter players are long and have active hands,’’ said Hayward. “We should have attacked them earlier and driven straight at them and then you can dump it off. We played a little too passive.’’
The Jazz had 10 turnovers by halftime and trailed by 10, so on the first possession of the half, what happened? Al Jefferson’s pass out to Williams was picked off by Kevin Durant, who passed to Russell Westbrook for an easy layup.
Utah settled down after that and closed to within six points with 19 seconds left in the game. The Jazz had the ball in frontcourt with a chance to perhaps cut the lead to three with a quick 3-pointer.
But after a timeout, Paul Millsap’s inbounds pass was picked off by Westbrook, who went thundering down the court for an emphatic dunk to clinch the victory.
“We’ve just got to learn and move on,’’ said Corbin.