The Oklahoma City Thunder had their 4-game winning streak broken in Utah, losing to the Jazz, 109-94. In a game where the Thunder had trouble getting the requisite amount of energy on both ends of the court, the Jazz, systematically took them apart and wrapped up the 4th quarter with the big win over the defending Western Conference champs.
The Thunder were led by Kevin Durant, who finished with a game-high 33 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals. Russell Westbrook finished with 22 points of his own, but Westbrook's effectiveness was largely offset by his 7 turnovers on the night.
The Jazz were led by a dominant effort by center Al Jefferson, who repeatedly worked his way into great spots to hit jumpers and post-up shots. His frontcourt mate Paul Millsap finished with a double-double, scorint 18 points to go along with 10 rebounds (5 offensive) and 6 assists.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
The easy escape route for explaining tonight's poor performance is that this game was sandwiched between 4 consecutive Thunder blowouts and the huge Thursday night matchup between the Thunder and the Heat.
While there may be some truth to this sentiment, at the end of the day the truth is that Utah played very good, very consistent basketball for 3 quarters and then dominant ball in the 4th quarter. Al Jefferson in particular did a masterful job working to his favorite spots on the floor and producing offense throughout the 2nd half. Meanwhile, the Thunder played 3 mediocre quarters, which were just good enough to keep them within striking range heading into the 4th down only 7 points. However, OKC then failed in the most critical juncture of the game by scoring only 4 points during the first 7 1/2 minutes in the final quarter.
The 4th quarter was so bad that Scott Brooks pulled out his starters before OKC's 5th and 6th points were scored in that dreadful ending. This failure continues a very uncomfortable trend for the Thunder. As we have noted before, the Thunder have performed poorly both offensively AND defensively in the 4th quarter of a number of games this year. Tonight was another entry into that mystifying trend.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
Sometimes statistics can tell almost the entirety of a game's outcome, like we saw in the last four Thunder wins, where Durant and Westbrook nary played a single minute of any 4th quarter. Other times, the statistics don't show you what you need to know.
In this game, the Thunder shot 55.9% from the floor, including a combined 19-30 from Durant and Westbrook for a total of 55 points. The Thunder grabbed 13 steals and had 13 blocked shots. Despite these seemingly strong numbers, the Thunder were neither good offensively or effective defensively.
The Thunder's offense was completely undone by their carelessness in protecting the basketball, giving Utah multiple extra possessions both through turnovers and offensive rebounding. OKC turned the ball over 20 times against a team that is not well known for its defensive aggressiveness. Westbrook was the worst offender, losing the ball 7 times on his own accord, but Durant was not much better, losing it 4 times himself. The turnovers disrupted what should have been an efficient Thunder attack. Instead, OKC struggled to score only 94 points on the night.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
The rebounding numbers were very troubling. Utah is a good rebounding team, but statistically OKC is actually the superior performer in this season. Never the less, Utah out-rebounded the Thunder, 38-26, including 16-7 on the offensive glass. This, combined with OKC's 20 team turnovers, led to a massive 19 additional shots on goal for Utah, which helped offset the Thunder's strong shooting performance. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, who have done a very good job this season in shoring up the defensive boards, were ineffective for most of the night. The pair combined for only 4 total rebounds and did little to help keep the Jazz off the offensive glass.
To be sure, Utah is always going to use this kind of performance to bolster their efforts, but the problem for OKC is, they know this. The Thunder know heading into any game against Utah that defensive rebounding is going to be a key metric as to wether they win or lose. Yet even with this knowledge, the Thunder as a team seemed unprepared to do the work necessary to prevent The Jazz's offensive rebounding performance.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
We can rest a little bit easier to know that the Jazz are a playoff team and that they do have an effective formula for winning. Also, they've already beaten the Heat this year as well, so their success tonight is no fluke.
For the Thunder though, we're still waiting for a good 4th quarter showing this season where the offense produces good possessions and the defense gets key stops.
Thursday night, the Heat come to town. Hopefully the Thunder will find the resolve to take a big step forward before the All-Star break is upon us.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 33 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals.
Thunder Down Under: Reggie Jackson, 12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists in 19 minutes
Thunder Blunder: Kendrick Perkins, who grabbed only 1 rebound in 28 minutes while committing 4 turnovers.
Thunder Plunderer: Al Jefferson, 23 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Next game: vs the Miami Heat on Thursday, Feb. 14 at 7PM CDT
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