On paper, the Utah Jazz should not have had a chance against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Instead they took their Northwest Division rivals to the brink in their season opener. The Thunder escaped with the 101-98 victory, but the Jazz gave them a good scare on the night before Halloween.
The Jazz had a lot going against them in their first outing of the 2013-14 regular season. They were facing perennial contenders in Oklahoma City. Only 10 healthy Utah players suited up, with three potential rotation players sitting out due to injury. And almost every player is either new or is assuming a different role in the Jazz rotation. But thanks to a lot of heart and hustle, the Jazz were in it right until the final buzzer, when Gordon Hayward’s deep 3 clanked off the rim.
Utah actually outperformed its opponent in many ways. The Jazz held Oklahoma City to a 41 percent shooting night, while shooting 46 percent themselves. Utah assisted 25 of their 36 field goals, while the Thunder had a mere nine assists. In the end, turnovers were a big key as the Jazz had 22 miscues, which lead to 25 Oklahoma City points.
Durant’s dominance: Thunder All-NBA forward Kevin Durant showed why he is one of the game’s very best. While his shot was a bit off (9-of-24 from the field), he was aggressive on both ends of the court, earning 24 trips to the free throw line — hitting 22. Every time Utah made a run, Durant had an answer. He was clutch in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 of his 42 points. With the Jazz within three points with 37 seconds remaining, he deflected and stole the ball to essentially preserve the win. Without his partner-in-crime — high-scoring Russell Westbrook — Durant stepped up to get the Oklahoma City season started out on the right foot.
Taking advantage: Mike Harris seemingly looked like he was on the outside looking in just a week ago. He not only overcame the odds but surprisingly made the Jazz roster; due to the myriad injuries, he played a vital role in Utah’s night. In 22 minutes, the scrappy forward contributed 13 points, four rebounds and two steals. His defense against Durant was admirable and unexpectedly, his fouling out was a key moment that tipped things in the Thunder’s favor.
Parallels?: The season after John Stockton and Karl Malone rode off into the sunset, many predicted that the Utah Jazz would struggle mightily. That squad ended up going 42-40, just barely missing the playoffs. That team endeared itself to the Jazz fanbase thanks to its overachieving, enthusiasm and effort. There may be some parallels with this year’s Utah roster.
After opting to not re-sign four of their top five scorers, the media is prognosticating a lowly season for the Jazz. Perhaps this version of the Jazz will do their best imitation. While their situation is not the same as losing two Hall of Famers, the forecast for Utah involves a lot of losses. If Wednesday’s performance is any indicator, the Jazz will lay it all out there most nights. If that’s the case, they may exceed expectations and find themselves in position to compete. And in doing so, they will give the fans many reasons to cheer.
Odds and ends:
- Despite Durant’s 24 shots from the charity stripe, the Thunder only shot three more free throws than the Jazz.
- In a well-balanced night, Utah had six players in double figures.
- Recently signed Jamaal Tinsley made his debut for the Jazz.
- Oklahoma City registered 15 steals, which contributed to some of its 25 fast break points.
David Smith provides instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also writes for Salt City Hoops and Utah Jazz 360. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.