The Oklahoma City Thunder showed why they have the Western Conference’s top record, handily defeating the Utah Jazz at the EnergySolutions Arena, 101-87, on Friday. The Jazz kept things close until the end of the third quarter, when the Thunder took control and never looked back.
Utah dropped to 11-5 at home, while losing the fifth out of its last six games (seven of its last 10). All five starters recorded double figures in points, paced by Al Jefferson’s 20 points.
All-star Thunder guard Russell Westbrook used his speed and quick hands to score a game-high 28 points, while Kevin Durant tallied 19 unassuming points.
Fast start: The Jazz came out running on all cylinders. The offense was crisp, with excellent ball movement getting everyone involved. Raja Bell was especially fresh, scoring a quick 10 points in the opening quarter. Devin Harris directed a fine quarter, pushing the pace and setting up teammates better than he has for a while. Likewise, Utah’s defense was spirited and even though Oklahoma City put 27 points on the board, the Jazz were aggressive and active.
Slow finish: Things went downhill from there, as the Jazz struggled to score the rest of the game, producing three subpar quarters — 14, 21, and 22 points respectively. While Utah shot quite well (47.5 percent overall), its 14 turnovers over the last three quarters (after just one in the first stanza) were damaging. It did not help that Oklahoma City shot 32 free throws, compared to the Jazz’s 13 attempts.
All-Star snubs: Many worthy candidates were left out Thursday when the Western Conference All-Star reserves were named. Two of them played in Friday’s game and neither of them looked particularly impressive in their first post-snub outings.
On his birthday no less, Paul Millsap managed just 10 points in 33 minutes, going 4-15 from the floor. The tall, active, and physical Thunder front court really affected his game, as most of his shot attempts were either contested or came from the perimeter. Conversely, the player he faced the most, Serge Ibaka, had a complete game (16 points on 7-10 field goals, 11 rebounds, and two blocked shots). Millsap did corral nine rebounds.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City guard James Harden also struggled, shooting just 2 of 8 from the field en route to 11 points. He also had three turnovers. He did make a crucial 3 down the stretch.
- The Jazz had 30 points in the first quarter. The next 30 points took 21 minutes (three minutes left in the third quarter).
- 27 of Utah’s 38 field goals were assisted — a 71.1-percent mark. The Jazz are usually on the winning end of things when that mark is this high.
- Earl Watson had his third consecutive scoreless game, going 0-8 over that span. He has recorded, however, 13 assists in the past two games.
David Smith is providing instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage this season. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also blogs for the Utah Jazz 360 website. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.