OKLAHOMA CITY — Other than minor things like shooting, scoring and defense, the Utah Jazz held their own against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
Considering circumstances, that's more of a compliment to the Thunder than a sarcastic swipe at the Jazz.
Slight facetiousness aside, when the Jazz combined those three aspects in the fourth quarter, things got interesting before OKC finished off its 106-94 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Because they cut an 18-point lead down to five, the Jazz took a detour through Moral Victory Road on their way from Oklahoma City to Houston.
"I don't feel bad at all about this loss," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "I think we did a great job against all the odds. We kept playing, never gave up."
With a mix-and-match lineup sparked by Enes Kanter (team-high 18 points) and Earl Watson (eight assists), the Jazz made a seeming blowout quite competitive in the fourth quarter before the inevitable happened.
Throw in the fact they were without starter Marvin Williams (concussion symptoms) and then lost key backup big Derrick Favors (strained right arch), the Jazz were in more of a glass-half-full mood in the aftermath of their sixth setback in seven tries against OKC.
"We fought. We showed a lot of character as we have all year," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We're going to continue to fight against guys and give ourselves a chance to win ballgames after we don't play our best basketball."
Utah isn't the only NBA team guilty of not playing its best basketball against the reigning Western Conference champions.
The Thunder (13-4) simply had too much firepower, athleticism and brute strength compared to the Jazz (9-8), who had won five of six games.
As usual, Oklahoma City got big outings from its stars. Kevin Durant scored 25 points and blocked four shots, and Mr. Everywhere Russell Westbrook tallied 23 points, 13 boards, eight assists and seven steals to nearly counter eight turnovers.
But the Thunder also got a 19-point bench effort from Kevin Martin, the explosive guard traded to OKC just before the season started for James Harden. Throw in beefy two-way performances from Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, both with 12 points and a combined 13 rebounds, and Utah was simply outmatched.
That was especially evident during Oklahoma City's second-quarter 18-5 surge en route to a 12-point halftime lead. The Thunder again flexed their muscle late, outscoring Utah 9-2 midway through the fourth quarter to reclaim a double-digit advantage.
"We competed. This is a tough environment," said fill-in starting small forward DeMarre Carroll, who had three blocks, two steals, four rebounds and four points along with the defensive assignment against Durant. "We was in the game most of the game. We had chance to come back and kind of win, but tough environment."
And an even tougher opponent.
Despite using a starting lineup that'd played four minutes together before Friday, the Jazz only trailed 22-20 after the first quarter and led by three early in the second before things quickly went awry.
Still, the Jazz had just erased 13 of OKC's game-high 18-point lead in the fourth quarter before the final turning point.
Shortly after making free throws to put the Thunder up 90-83, Westbrook stole the ball only to have it stolen back by Earl Watson. As the Jazz point guard rushed down court, however, Westbrook darted toward him and swiped the basketball back.
In the process, though, Westbrook bumped Watson, and the veteran playmaker hit the floor while the ball was hurled the other way for an easy Durant dunk.
A miffed Corbin barked at referee Dan Crawford and received a technical foul. Durant sank the freebie, and the Thunder never looked back after the three-point play gave OKC a 93-83 lead with 7:02 left.
"I thought it was a huge play," Corbin said.
Neither he nor Watson complained about the call, though.
The play of Watson and Kanter were bright spots for the Jazz.
The second-year Turkish big man, getting extra time after Favors' exit, returned to his preseason MVP form, playing aggressively, hitting jumpers, making nice moves while helping Utah cut into the Thunder lead.
"I seen the Big Turkey I've been looking for since the season start. I seen the Big Turkey I seen in preseason," Jefferson said. "He stepped up big tonight. Wherever it came from, I hope it continue to come."
Favors is listed as doubtful tonight in Houston, so it might have to for the Jazz to bounce back.
As for Kanter, he was more bummed about the loss that dropped Utah's road record to 3-8 than he was thrilled about his career-high scoring night and seven offensive rebounds.
"It's nice, but we lost the game, so I'm not happy about my scores or my rebounds or anything," he said. "We just lost the game. That's what I'm really sad for."
NOTES: Mo Williams had 13 points and six assists after missing the past three games with a sprained right forefoot. ... Jefferson had his ninth double-double: 16 points and 11 rebounds. ... Utah shot 41.3 percent to OKC's 52.0 percent.
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