Oklahoma City’s stars were shining and filling up the stat sheet but it didn’t matter as Utah’s total team effort lead the Jazz to a 109-94 win Tuesday night.
Figuratively (and almost literally) this game was like a boxing match. Queue the Rocky music (Rocky I is the best). You have the star prize-fighter (Thunder) that everyone thinks will walk over the underdog (Jazz). The game was close early with the teams feeling each other out. A jab here and a jab there. By halftime it was nearly a draw with one knockdown for the Thunder. Though the duo of Kevin Durant (33 points, six assists, five rebounds and four steals) and Russell Westbrook (22 points and five assists) lived up to their billing, by mid fourth quarter they had nothing left. The Jazz bench finished off the Thunder en route to victory.
By the end the Jazz had dominated almost every aspect of the game led by Al Jefferson’s 23 points, seven rebounds and multiple bumps on the head. Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins, who were Boston teammates early in their careers, have little love lost between them. The two centers battled and elbowed from the get-go and set the tone early.
“When you step on the court with Perkins, you know it’s going to be a physical game,” Jefferson said. “There’s no soft in him and when you play against him and [Serge] Ibaka you have to be prepared for a physical game and we came prepared.”
The physical play carried on throughout and, among other things, seemed to get in the head’s of the Thunder players. Three technical and two flagrant fouls later, the Jazz were left standing.
The real story of the game was the Jazz’s bench. They provided energy, enthusiasm and didn’t back down from the fight. The “Dog Pound” led by the “Junkyard Dog” himself, DeMarre Carroll combined for 49 points, 20 rebounds and six steals. Derrick Favors and Alec Burks had stellar games but Carroll was the difference maker. He hit timely three’s and played great defense on Durant.
“We knew we had to bounce back and try to get these next two before the All-Star break,” Jefferson said. “I guess guys just came in focused tonight. Everybody stepped in, made big shots and opened the inside up for the bigs.”
Coming off back-to-back losses, this was a game the Jazz needed to win. The fact that it was against once of the best team’s in the league makes it even better. The Jazz head to Minnesota to face the Timberwolves on Wednesday night for their final game before the All-Star break.
After the game the Thunder appeared to be rattled by the play but also from the fans. Durant tweeted shortly after that he didn’t appreciate the fans who were heckling him from behind the bench. He later deleted the tweet. When asked about the loudness of EnergySolutions Arena, Durant said that it wasn’t even as loud an empty OKC arena. That makes me laugh but also makes me think this game and the fans really got to him.
I know one thing for sure, when these two teams meet again in Salt Lake on April 9th, you can expect a battle (Rocky II, perhaps) and I’m thinking it won’t be too quiet.