The Utah Jazz weathered their early stretch of difficult road games, and are settling into a stretch of seven out of ten at home. The first test for the Jazz was the Oklahoma City Thunder. These teams are scheduled to square off three times in the next ten games. With OKC off to a slower start than expected under new head coach Billy Donovan, the Jazz will have an opportunity to steal some head-to-head games against a Northwest Division opponent. While a division title for the Jazz would be well ahead of schedule, a strong showing in the season series against the cream of the crop in the Northwest would go a long way in the development of this young team. At 6-6 after just three home games, the Jazz are playing well despite some tough losses on their last road trip. This game might have been a step back and a reality check for the Jazz.
Oklahoma City came into Monday night’s game with an offensive rating of 107.5, putting them in second place behind Golden State. The Jazz’ defensive rating of 97.7 was tied with Chicago for sixth best in the league. Something would have to give, as the respective offensive and defensive identities of these teams would be tested.
After a slow start the Jazz went on a run to take the lead with 5:57 to go in the first. Gordon Hayward sunk two free throws off of a foul on a fast break dunk try. Moments later Raul Neto converted a layup on a break away, and Rodney Hood got fouled on a fast break right after that. Hood’s was determined a clear path foul. He made one of two free throws and Utah got the ball back. The Jazz were running well early. Before converting on those opportunities they had a botched fast break involving Hayward and Favors that was broken up by Kevin Durant.
A predictable chorus boos echoed through Vivint Smart Home Arena as Enes Kanter was introduced. Fans still haven’t forgiven last year’s villain for negative comments he made about the beloved state of Utah, and the Jazz franchise on his way out the door midway through last season. He made his presence known shortly after checking in by converting a lay up that but OKC up 17-16 with just over two minutes left in the first. At one point the Jazz were on an 11-0 run in the first. OKC slowed them down and took a 23-20 lead into the first break. But Alec Burks finished the quarter with a baseline dunk to get the Jazz to the 20-point mark. That was about the last positive for the Jazz in this game.
Trey Burke hit a three for the Jazz to tie it at 23 to star the second. But the Thunder followed it up with two threes of their own and a layup that gave them a 31-23 lead with 9:00 to go in the half. Utah was shooting poorly at that point. They were 1/7 from three, and just 8/23 from the field overall. They had also already turned the ball over 8 times.
Things started spinning out of control for the Jazz, who stayed cold from three. Rudy Gobert was tangled up in two separate double fouls, and later got called for a technical. The defensive effort collapsed as the Thunder scored 40 points in the second quarter, including an Enes Kanter dunk just before the buzzer. The Jazz went into the locker room down 63-46.
Kevin Durant looked fresh coming off his injury. He had 18 points in the first half. Russell Westbrook had 12 points and 3 assists for OKC in the first half. Gordon Hayward had 9 points on 3/5 shooting for the Jazz. Derrick Favors finished the half with 7 points and 6 rebounds. The Jazz defense couldn’t keep up with Durant and Westbrook in the second quarter, despite keeping them in check in the first.
The Thunder continued to roll as the second half got under way. Russell Westbrook scored 8 quick points to put the Jazz on their heels. With 6:00 left in the third Utah trailed 75-56. Westbrook kept up hist strong play, finishing the third with 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 9 assists. Durant finished the quarter with 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals. Gordon Hayward had 19 points at the end of the third quarter.
OKC continued to pour it on through much of the fourth. They built their lead and gave some bench players a chance to get some minutes. Kevin Durant finished with 27 points, Westbrook finished with 20, and Kanter had 11. Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 19, followed by Favors with 11, and Gobert with 10. The final score was 111-89 for the Thunder.
This loss for the Jazz puts them at 6-7 on the year. They exhibited a lot of sloppy play and struggled shooting the ball. This was a reminder that this team is still very much a work in progress. There are a lot of nice pieces in place, but they are very young and have a lot to learn. It will be difficult for the Jazz to win games until they can consistently make shots from the outside. Derrick Favors provides a legitimate scoring threat down low, and consistent shooting could go a long way to stretch opposing defenses. The Jazz will play the Clippers in LA on Wednesday.