OKLAHOMA CITY — The courtside sign in Chesapeake Energy Arena simply stated, "Jazz is dead."
As far as we know, it was intended strictly for Utah's prospects of winning Wednesday night's game between the Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
However, judging by the way the Jazz played for most of the first half and into the third quarter, it may have been a fitting epitaph for Utah's postseason hopes this year.
A nine-point second-quarter showing, in which they shot a dreadful 3-of-24 from the field, doomed the Jazz to a 22-point halftime deficit, and the Thunder rolled to an eventual 110-87 victory over a struggling Utah squad which has now lost eight of its last 10 games.
"Our defense was outstanding that first half," OKC coach Scott Brooks said. "Holding a very good offensive team to a low field goal percentage and nine points in the second quarter, I thought that was the game right there."
With the lopsided loss, the Jazz fell to 33-32 on the season and, thankfully, didn't fall any farther behind the eighth-place Los Angeles Lakers in the West playoff race after L.A. (34-32) lost on Wednesday as well at Atlanta.
Any way you sliced it, Wednesday night's performance by the Jazz came up smelling like a locker room full of stinky gym shoes, mixed with a few slices of 6-month-old Limburger cheese covered with wet dog fur and wrapped in a dirty diaper.
Yeah, it was that bad.
And Utah coach Tyrone Corbin knew it.
"This was a disappointing performance," he said. "Where we are in the season, we needed a big win and I didn't think we gave it our best effort in that first half to start off. The third quarter we just couldn't get it going.
"I thought the bench guys came in and at least they played hard."
Indeed, backup shooting guard Gordon Hayward scored 20 points, reserve center Enes Kanter added a dozen and veteran point guard Earl Watson contributed nine points and six assists in a solid reserve role.
But none of the Jazz starters scored in double figures, with season-long leading scorer Al Jefferson going 4-of-13 from the field, guards Randy Foye and Mo Williams both putting up 2-of-7 stinkers, Paul Millsap missing four of his five shots and DeMarre Carroll clanking all three of his field goal attempts.
Between them, Utah's starters were a combined 9-of-35, and Alec Burks contributed a 2-of-8 night off the bench as the Jazz shot just 35 percent (28-of-80) as a team.
"That's very concerning," Corbin said of his starters' shooting struggles. "Not just hitting double figures; it's the way we executed plays. They had us on the perimeter all game long. With six points in the paint at halftime, we're an inside-outside team first, and we just weren't focused and the effort wasn't there.
"We were taking jump shots and didn't attack the basket. You know nine points in a quarter and no points in the paint is not good."
The Jazz actually got off to a decent start, taking an early six-point lead at 12-6 before Oklahoma City unleashed a 23-4 run, capped by Kevin Durant's coast-to-coast driving layup and subsequent three-point play. The Thunder led 29-19 at the first stop and 50-28 at halftime.
Carroll got called for a flagrant foul on Durant midway through the third period — one of the few times the Jazz showed much fight through the first 21/2 quarters — as Oklahoma City fattened its lead to as much as 32 points, the last time at 74-42.
Utah's bench came on and managed to whittle the margin to 16 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Jazz could come no closer.
"We got embarrassed and have to be able to compete in these games," Hayward said in a somber Jazz postgame locker room. "Coming down to three or four weeks left in the season, trying to get into the playoffs, we can't come out with efforts like this.
"They out-toughed us. They forced us way out on the perimeter on our sets. Our bigs caught it way up to the elbow and we couldn't get into our offense, and that's why we couldn't get good looks. There were countless times where we were stuck with four seconds left with the ball and had to make a play way out on the perimeter, and that can't happen."
Durant, the league's leading scorer, finished with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds — he also had eight turnovers — while point guard Russell Westbrook added 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Kevin Martin contributed 15 points, Reggie Jackson had 12 and Derek Fisher and Serge Ibaka chipped in with 10 apiece as the Thunder (48-17) shot nearly 54 percent from the floor, almost 44 percent from 3-point range and 88 percent from the foul line.
Oklahoma City, which bounced back from a disappointing loss at San Antonio two nights earlier, also outrebounded the Jazz by a 48-35 margin in avenging a 15-point loss to the Jazz last month in Utah.
"Of course, it is important after a loss to try and bounce back," Durant said. "This team beat us pretty badly in Utah, so we wanted to come out here and send a message, and we did that.
"We were physical with them. It was a physical game between both teams. … We forced them out (of the paint) and I can count on one hand how many times they got easy points in the paint. That's where our defense is."
It certainly was on this night and, consequently, like that courtside sign said, "Jazz is dead."
Utah fans are just hoping that's not a precursor for their ill-fated postseason aspirations, too.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company