OKLAHOMA CITY — Early in Sunday’s game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, Pharrell’s popular song, “Happy,” and its metaphoric lyric about clapping along “if you feel like a room without a roof” blared throughout Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Jazz might’ve clapped if it would’ve helped them feel like they were shooting at a rim without a roof.
Instead, they got Thunder-clapped.
As it was, Thunder fans had plenty of reasons to smack their hands together in happiness in a pivotal first quarter when OKC took advantage of the Jazz’s horrific shooting to build a big lead en route to an easy-like-a-Sunday-afternoon 116-96 blowout victory.
“It’s frustrating when you’re not hitting anything and they just keep hitting,” Jazz center Enes Kanter said. “It’s just frustrating. Mentally, we were just getting down. We just have to beat that.”
There were some silver linings to this OKC storm, but that first quarter simply doomed Utah to its fourth-consecutive loss and 15th defeat in 17 games.
The first nine minutes, especially, were as bad as it’s been throughout this 23-51 season.
The Jazz missed their first seven shots, fell behind 11-0, and didn’t score until small forward Richard Jefferson mercifully made a 4-foot runner after four minutes and 26 seconds of basketball time had elapsed.
Three possessions later, power forward Derrick Favors’ layup went through the twine to make it a single-digit game once again at 13-4.
The opposite of happy hoops continued.
The next 10 times they touched the ball, the Jazz had six missed field goals, three turnovers, two missed free throws by returned guard Alec Burks and zero points.
After putting up a measly four points in the first 9 1/2 minutes and 22 possessions, it felt like the Jazz went on a scoring spree when they finished the first quarter with five points in the final 2:35.
“The defense really set the tone in the first quarter. They shot a low percentage,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We were really getting into the basketball. We contested all their shots. Nine points in an NBA quarter is hard to do, and it doesn’t happen often, but I thought we set the tempo right there.”
The Jazz, struggling to get anything inside especially against Thunder bigs Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams, only hit 4 of 21 field goals in the first quarter. Utah trailed 26-9 after its lowest-scoring first quarter of the season, and it felt like it could’ve been even worse.
“I don’t say fear. I don’t say scared. We just missed some shots,” Jefferson said. “We beat the Miami Heat. We’ve beaten them (Thunder) before, so we know that if we play well, we have a chance to put ourselves in the game.
“Tonight,” he added, “they came out, we missed some shots, they played good defense and played well on the other end, and the game was out of reach.”
To Utah’s credit — and here’s the silver lining part — the Jazz did manage to make things somewhat interesting after falling behind by 28 points.
But small forward Kevin Durant, looking very much like a legitimate MVP candidate, squelched the Jazz’s second-half rally by beating the shot clock at the end of the third quarter to hit a gut-wrenching, off-balanced 3-pointer.
Utah had trimmed the Thunder’s lead down to a dozen points with a 37-point third-quarter explosion before Durant’s dagger.
Durant finished with a game-high 31 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including 4 for 6 from 3-point range and a 9-for-9 afternoon at the foul line.
“You kind of marvel how good the guy is. He didn’t press at all. It was a tough shot,” Corbin said of Durant. “It was a huge play to go from (12 to 15 down). That’s what great players do in this league.”
The Thunder, who improved to 54-19, also got a strong showing from point guard Russell Westbrook, who hounded Trey Burke on the defensive end and tallied 19 points with four assists on the other end.
Also, Ibaka finished with 17 points and four blocked shots for the Thunder, who shot 55.4 percent for the game and sent the Jazz back to Utah for Monday night’s Knicks game with a sound stomping.
“You can learn a lot from a team like that,” Kanter said, “because they’re playing for a championship.”2 comments on this story
Kanter led the Jazz with his 20th double-double, scoring 18 points with 12 rebounds. Jefferson added 17 points, Gordon Hayward chipped in 16 and Burks, back after a four-game absence, scored 12 for Utah, which only shot 41.9 percent but scored 87 points after its stumbling start.
“Other than the first quarter, I thought we were hungry and we fought,” Corbin said. “This is what good teams do. They come out and they try and bury you right from the beginning, and they had a lot of success doing it in the first quarter.”
Unfortunately for the Jazz, their rim had that darn roof on it.