OKLAHOMA CITY — For several years, Chesapeake Energy Arena has been one of the toughest places for the Jazz to win a ball game. The last time they won here in October of 2010, Donovan Mitchell was in junior high school.
For most of Tuesday night’s game, it looked like the Jazz were going to break through and finally defeat Oklahoma City on its home court for the first time in seven years and a dozen tries. The Jazz were sinking shots and playing aggressive defense as they built up a 17-point lead against the Thunder and appeared to be on their way to their seventh straight win of the season.
Then, a combination of Russell Westbrook coming alive and the Jazz running out of gas happened.
Westbrook scored 17 points and had nine rebounds and eight assists in the second half on his way to a 34-point, 14-assist, 13-rebound triple-double night against a Jazz team that had played the night before in Salt Lake City. The Thunder rallied to a 100-94 victory.
Meanwhile, the Jazz, who had crushed the Washington Wizards by 47 points Monday at Vivint Arena in one of their best games of the season, suddenly looked sluggish in the fourth quarter, as they couldn’t make a basket, going just 6 for 20 and turning the ball over at key times.
When asked about his team’s struggles at the end when they were outscored 45-22 over the final 16 minutes of the game, the first thing Jazz coach Quin Snyder mentioned was Westbrook.
“Russell Westbrook, the MVP of the league, got going in the third quarter,” he said. “He gave them a lot of energy and gave them points.”
Snyder also said his team was spent, both physically and emotionally.
“We ran out of steam a little bit emotionally,” Snyder said. “We’ve got to be able to play through that. We need to have a little more in the tank late.”
The Jazz had another terrific performance from Mitchell, who has been on fire lately, as he finished with a game-high 31 points on 11-of-22 shooting, including 5 of 12 from 3-point range and four assists and five steals. Thabo Sefolosha finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and four steals in a fine performance off the bench, and Alec Burks also scored 11 in a reserve role. Joe Ingles finished with 16 points.
The Jazz, who matched a season high with 16 steals on the night, had taken it to the Thunder from the opening tip as they sank their first four shots and raced to an 11-4 lead early. They never trailed in the first half as they led 28-19 after the first quarter and 47-39 at halftime.
Utah built up its lead to 72-55 at the 4:13 mark of the third quarter on a driving layup by Burks, but then Westbrook came alive.
After not scoring in the third to that point, Westbrook knocked down a 3-pointer, then scored eight more points before the end of the quarter to bring OKC within 12 at 80-68. Then, with Westbrook on the bench, the Thunder closed the gap behind Paul George and Jerami Grant as the Jazz went cold.
When Westbrook re-entered the game at the 7:30 mark, the lead was down to six and he immediately hit a pull-up jumper from 15 feet. The first lead for OKC came with 4:10 left on a running layup by Westbrook, and the Thunder broke away from a 92-92 tie with seven straight points to put the game away.
Snyder was generally positive about his team’s performance, but was unhappy with a couple of offensive rebounds late by Steven Adams that killed the Jazz.
“Late, we weren’t able to secure a couple of defensive rebounds,” Snyder said. “The offensive rebounds are killers. If we get a defensive rebound we get a chance to play in flow and the game doesn’t stagnate in the halfcourt.”
Adams finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. George added 21 points, while Carmelo Anthony scored 14 points.
“I thought it was a great win, considering the way we played in the first half,” said OKC coach Billy Donovan. “I though Russell and his never-say-die attitude when we got down there, just kept us alive.”
The Jazz return home to face Houston Thursday night at home before embarking on their six-game road trip, beginning with Milwaukee Saturday night.