In last season's NBA playoffs against superstar centers like Houston's Yao Ming and San Antonio's Tim Duncan, Utah's Mehmet Okur sacrificed his offensive game to try to contain those big threats as much as he could. He was criticized for not scoring the way he had earlier in the year, for simply trying to defend the stars.
Friday night against Duncan and the Spurs in EnergySolutions Arena on a national ESPN broadcast, Okur not only did a commendable job playing against Duncan Carlos Boozer took his turns against Duncan, too but Okur also was the Jazz's leading scorer with 17 points, their leading rebounder with 16 and the one who sparked a third-quarter run with an all-around game that led Utah to a 90-64 victory.
It was the second game in a row that Okur came out after intermission on a mission.
Wednesday at home against Minnesota, Okur scored 10 straight Jazz points early in the second half, had 13 points for the third quarter and hit three 3-pointers in the period in a 97-89 Jazz win in a game that was close at the half.
Friday, Okur had three baskets, three rebounds and two steals in the first seven minutes of the third quarter as Utah went from a 40-38 lead to a nine-point advantage. He missed one shot, then was replaced in the lineup for a rest until the fourth quarter, when he pulled down five rebounds in the first seven minutes as Utah's lead continued to grow.
"Still hot. Don't touch me," he jokingly said as he reached into his locker before turning around to face the cameras after the game.
"I learned my lesson last year, especially from the playoffs, on the offensive end," he said. "I wasn't able to score. (Friday) I was really active on the defensive ends and on the rebounds, so I learned my lesson."
He said the lesson was to "stay focused, stay hungry, don't give up."
It was also to play with big energy.
"After a couple minutes, I was more focused on the defensive end, and now I am able to play same level basketball offensive and defensive end."
Against Duncan, who averaged 19.5 points and 11.5 rebounds coming into the game at Utah, Okur said he mainly tried to keep him off his favored block "and make him make tough shots over my hands and grab the rebounds. Not only me, my teammates did such a great job they really help me on the block."
Duncan finished with 15 points on 5-for-12 shooting, 10 boards, three turnovers and three blocked shots while playing only 26 minutes.
Meanwhile, Okur was making 7-of-12 shots, 3-for-5 on 3s, and giving the kind of offensive lift that wasn't there in last season's playoffs.
He said there was no plan for the team's offense to go to him to open the second half. "We tried to take what they give us. We really execute the ball, especially Deron (Williams), he was drive inside and create open shots for us," Okur said."I feel good now," he added, talking about the shoulder and toe problems that slowed him earlier this season, "and I try to give my 100-A game night in and night out right now before the playoffs start. I try to get used to it on defensive and offensive end before the playoffs start."
E-mail: [email protected]