SALT LAKE CITY — Fans will certainly get their money’s worth if the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder end up playing nine more games this season like the one they did Saturday night at Vivint Arena.
Jazz fans and players would surely just wish the result was slightly different.
In the teams’ first contest at the Jazz’s home arena since last season’s first-round playoff series that saw Utah win 4-2, the Thunder sneaked away with a 107-106 victory in an intense, back-and-forth showdown.
Down 107-105 with 1.5 seconds remaining after a fourth-quarter rally, the Jazz had a chance to send the game into overtime after Donovan Mitchell was fouled by Russell Westbrook as he rose up for a dunk. Mitchell missed the first free throw, however, and then made the second, preventing Utah from gettting an opportunity to get a tip-in on an offensive rebound.
“Just missed the free throw,” Mittchell said. “There’s no other way around it. That can’t happen. I thought it was in. Just in-and-out. That’s all I got.”
While that one missed shot ultimately sealed the Jazz’s fate as they moved to 16-18 on the season, it was just one storyline on a night when both teams battled. Paul George finished with 43 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, five steals and a block, and the Thunder used a 23-2 run in the third quarter to turn a nine-point deficit into a 12-point lead entering the fourth quarter before Utah charged back only to come up short.
The Jazz gave up just 14 points in the final frame but couldn’t quite get over the hump thanks in large part to missing five 3-pointers in the closing minutes.
After Saturday’s games, just 7.5 games separate 14 of the 15 teams in the Western Conference standings. By contrast, in the Eastern Conference, there’s a 7.5-game spread among just the top seven teams.
"It's nonstop, and I think that's gonna be the moral of the story all year,” Mitchell said of the sorts of games that will be played between teams in the West. “This is a different league, a different conference than last year. Top to bottom, this is going to be a tough one. If we keep playing the way we're playing, we'll be in good shape."
For the night, Utah finished with a remarkable 35 assists on 42 made baskets and won the rebounding and turnover battles, but made just 32 percent of its shots from beyond the arc and 61 percent from the free-throw line.
“A loss is a loss. It hurts, but we can learn from that,” said guard Ricky Rubio, who turned in a very good performance with 12 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds and three steals. “I think we’ve got to be encouraged the way we’re playing.”5 comments on this story
Kyle Korver echoed those thoughts in taking the long view at how Saturday’s game can help the team moving forward.
“We didn’t get the one tonight. We wanted to get it, but … we’re building toward something good,” he said. “You don’t want to accept that it’s going to happen, but I really feel like we’re building good habits, and that’s when you win, is when you have good habits.
Not just if jump shots go down, not just if we get in a rhythm, not just when our schedule is light. You win when you have good habits, and we’re building them through these tough games.”