The Jazz played solid defense, made a late surge but ultimately fell to Oklahoma City 90-80 on Tuesday night, losing for only the second time in the last nine games.
Coming off a road win in Golden State on Sunday night, the Jazz looked to keep their momentum going with the Thunder in town.
It wasn’t to be, as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook never let the Jazz in the game. Durant finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists and Westbrook and his wicked first-step chipped in 23 points.
The Jazz were led by Al Jefferson’s 15 points and 11 rebounds. Gordon Hayward also played well, scoring 17 points.
Utah played defense and held a powerful Thunder team to 39% shooting but couldn’t put it all together at the right time.
“We should have attacked earlier in the game and looked for shots in the post, we were a little too passive,” Hayward said. “We did a lot of things right tonight but couldn’t get over the hump.”
Throughout the first half the Jazz played the Thunder’s game, settling for outside jumper after outside jumper; only making four of the 15 three pointers they attempted.
Utah stayed in the game with what’s becoming their calling card-defense and hustle. When the Jazz make it hard for the other team to score, go after loose balls and execute, they are hard to beat. They showed a little of that before halftime spearheaded by DeMarre Carroll and Derrick Favors. Favors swatted five shots in 29 minutes tonight, including a doozy on Kevin Durant when he tried to take him one on one.
The Jazz went into halftime down 45-35.
Beginning the second half, the Jazz kept hurling up three’s, making a few. At this point, they had to keep jacking up trey’s to keep pace with OKC. It reminded me of friendly (read as ultra-competitive) games of NBA 2K13 that I play with my younger brother. I build a big lead by playing my game and he tries to counteract it with a flood of three point attempts. Sometimes it works but more often than not, he needs to slow it down and look for easy buckets. At that point it’s usually too late.
Such was the case with the Jazz.
They jacked up 25 three’s overall, well above their season average of 17. They made seven on this night.
The Jazz played good defense tonight but Durant and Westbrook were just too much to handle. When they didn’t finish at the bucket, they broke the defense down and kicked it out to an open teammate. No defense can stymie these two for an entire 48 minutes, let alone an entire shot clock.
In the third quarter, the Jazz kept trying to make plays and get within striking distance. But then Serge Ibaka would ruin everything. He was a one-man wrecking crew making jumpers and swatting layups. Ibaka finished the game with 16 points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
The Jazz made it interesting late in the fourth quarter when Favors had a pair of and-one’s go his way. Favors was a bright spot in this game and has been for most of the season. His defense is among the NBA’s elite and his offensive game is coming along. Jazz fans should be excited about what they are seeing from him.
Mo Williams ended up with 19 points on 7-17 shooting and brought the Jazz within seven late in the game with a crowd-pleasing three, but it was the closest the Jazz would get all game.
“It’s a tough loss,” said Tyrone Corbin. “We lost on our home floor but this is a good team that’s playing very well. We have three games left and we need to be sure to come out Friday and do what we need to do win.”
Neither team was great on this night but the Thunder made the plays when they had to and the Jazz only made some of those plays, but it was never enough. That’s the difference between these two teams. OKC is a championship-caliber squad and the Jazz are trying to get there.
Fans shouldn’t be too down about a loss to one of the league’s best. All is not lost when you lose to a top three team in the league, and the playoffs are still a real possibility for the Jazz. The Thunder are extremely good and sport the best one-two punch in the game.
The Jazz will look to get on track as they host Minnesota in the final home game of the season on Friday night.