SALT LAKE CITY — The way Mehmet Okur aggressively started Monday night's game, you would've never guessed that he sat one out the day before with a sore back.
"I felt great at the beginning," Okur said, "and wanted to be active."
Fifteen seconds into the Utah Jazz's 112-89 walloping of Washington, Okur charged to the basket like a raging bull for a powerful dunk.
A minute later, the starting center barreled in for a fast-break layup.
Though he missed the ensuing foul shot, Okur certainly didn't miss the opportunity to make a quick mark in this game and to again show his worth to the Jazz after sitting out Sunday's loss in Oklahoma City with a back sprain.
"It was nice to see Memo back," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "That helps us when he's out there on the floor, because he gives us another shooter."
Okur shot the ball well in his return, no doubt. He finished with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting, and drilled his only 3-pointer. He also had two second-half 23-foot jumpers off of tricky no-look passes by Deron Williams. But Okur gave the Jazz more than just another outside threat.
Along with his aggressive drives, he had a swooping 8-foot hook shot on offense. And on defense, Okur rejected three Washington shots. That marked the ninth time this season Okur has swatted at least three shots, and was his second straight game with that many blocks.
"I thought he moved around pretty well," Sloan said. "It didn't look like he was having too much of a problem with it."
Okur admitted his back felt the best in the first half when he racked up nine points, five rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal. But the pregame treatment that had his back feeling "good at the beginning" cooled off after he sat down in the second quarter and in the locker room during the break.
He claimed to feel a bit "sore" in the second half and after the game. "Hopefully," he said, "I'll be OK the next game."
The Jazz, who played without another big man in Andrei Kirilenko (strained calf), sure hope so.
Okur's unique skill set is invaluable for the Jazz's long-term success. Not only is he appreciated for opening up the inside for Carlos Boozer because he can drill the longball, but Okur also is making defenses pay by his newfound penchant for plowing toward the basket. Defenses have to pick their poison now.
"Teams, they cover him out there now, so he's not getting as many open looks," Williams said. "But he's added the pump fake and the drive to the basket. Really, he does a good job of just catching and going."
Which is what Okur purposely did a couple of times to open the game before he looked for his first outside shot. "Every night I just want to start the game (and) cut to the basket and maybe get easy baskets or free throws," Okur said.
"And I did tonight and I was active at the beginning."
Boozer credits Okur for unclogging the middle.
"He keeps that other big man outside the paint," Boozer said, "and gives me a chance to go in there and work a little bit more."
Boozer appreciated that Okur played with some soreness, too.
"Great to have him back," Boozer said. "He fought back through some back pains and played tonight, so I was proud of him."
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