The Utah Jazz lost their season opener at EnergySolutions Arena 101-98 against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. Every now and then, the Jazz showed glimpses of greatness in Salt Lake City as they scored in transition and dunked the ball every chance they had. Unfortunately for Jazz fans, the storm the Thunder brought was too strong for the young Jazz team, even on its home court.
The Jazz exchanged buckets with the Thunder during the first half but fell apart with 1:30 left in the first half, giving up several points, including a 3-pointer from Thabo Sefolosha at the buzzer to end the half.
The third quarter belonged to the Thunder and they picked apart the Jazz defense, exploiting every possible weakness. The Jazz didn’t help themselves as they got into foul trouble and seemingly forgot how to set their feet on defensive plays that could have been potential charges.
Despite their foul trouble and Gordon Hayward spending a lot of time on the bench, the Jazz fought back in the fourth quarter, led by Alec Burks. Burks contributed 24 points, six assists and several acrobatic and athletic plays.
Ultimately, the Jazz shot themselves in the foot by getting into early foul trouble, missing free throws (finishing 20-for-30) and turning the ball over 22 times during the game, including at pivotal moments.
Jazz fans should be tipping their hats to Burks, who singlehandedly provided a spark and contagious levels of energy to bring the Jazz back from a double-digit deficit to in the contest until the final shot of the game. Burks led the team in scoring by attacking the rim but ultimately still lacks a consistent outside jump shot. Despite his athleticism and jaw-dropping acrobatic stunts, he turned the ball over with under 30 seconds left in the game forcing Derrick Favors to foul Kevin Durant, which resulted in two made free throws and a five-point game. Burks and other Jazz guards need to decrease overall turnovers.
If there was a “forward of the game” award for Wednesday’s game it would easily be given to Mike Harris for his defensive efforts and offensive spark during key moments in the game. Harris finished with 13 points before fouling out. Small forward Gordon Hayward struggled offensively and rode the bench early because of fouls.
Favors and Enes Kanter impressed the home crowd with several monster jams during the first quarter and fought hard throughout the game to contain Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. Both centers caused discomfort for Nick Collison in the paint and outmuscled the Thunder for a combined 29 points and 19 rebounds. Rookie Rudy Gobert even got some decent minutes in the season opener and contributed seven rebounds to a team total of 44.
Coach Ty Corbin showed maturity by calling timeouts at key moments during the game and trusting the players who were hot both offensively and defensively. Corbin still doesn’t know who his finishers are and what role each player should have during the final stretch of games. He did, however, demonstrate instinctive coaching strategy by trusting Burks and Harris to lead the Jazz team into the final minutes.
At first glance, it would have been easy for Jazz fans everywhere to yell at their TVs or those attending the game to yell directly at the referees. Upon seeing replays and reviews, the referees actually called a nice game. Ultimately, there was one controversial call that gave Hayward his third foul in the second quarter, requiring Corbin to bench him early in the game.
The Thunder were missing their all-star point guard, Russell Westbrook, in Wednesday’s game in Salt Lake City, but ultimately Durant led his team to a solid win over the Jazz. The Thunder showed that they know how to execute a half-court offense and punish teams for turnovers with quick points in transition. One thing is for certain, the Thunder looked good overall but when Westbrook gets back, look out.