OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s a numbers game for the Utah Jazz.
Here are the numbers: The Jazz are three All-Stars away from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
How they offset that is, in part, by bringing a strong bench effort.
That happened in spurts during Sunday’s 116-108 loss to the Thunder.
But the big push was too late.
With a lineup of Jae Crowder, Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Raul Neto and Epke Udoh, the Jazz cut an 18-point deficit to six with 40 seconds remaining.
“Everyone is an NBA player, and we need to come in and step up when the bench comes in,” said Exum, who finished with 10 points in 18 minutes. “We need to come in and step up when the bench comes in and match the intensity of the starters — or even better. That’s what I try to do off the bench.”
Exum logged three straight driving shots to start the fourth quarter, giving the Jazz a boost. But in the same span, the Thunder alternated four baskets by Paul George and Alex Abrines, pushing the lead from seven to 11.
The Jazz’s bigger boost came late in the game. Burks scored 10 points in 30 seconds, including a pair of 3-pointers. The last bucket pulled the Jazz to within six. But Oklahoma City’s free-throw shooting put the game out of reach.
Going into the fourth quarter, the Jazz bench had made just 3 of 11 field goals. But thereafter, Exum and Burks made 7 of 8 shots between them.
“Tonight it was a little late but it was great to have them,” said Rudy Gobert.
One advantage the Jazz could exploit in the series is to offset George, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook with a good bench effort.