Surprised? Without Serge Ibaka, the Oklahoma City Thunder were blown out by the Utah Jazz to the tune of a 112-101 final score. Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with an incredibly efficient 37 points on 16 shots and 13 free throws (he missed just three shots and four free throws). Kevin Durant put in 48 points after dropping the same amount last Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, albeit in a much less dominating performance overall.
The Thunder were generally able to stay within a possession or two in the first quarter, but it wasn't the most pleasing performance and it wasn't surprising when they fell behind by double digits in the second quarter. For practically the rest of the game, the Jazz held a double-digit lead, including in the third quarter when the lead ballooned as high as 24 points. The Thunder managed to cut the deficit to five late in the game through Durant, but Hayward caught fire and quickly sunk a bunch of jumpers to push the game out of reach for the Thunder.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
It sucked a lot to watch, but it really doesn't mean anything long term with Ibaka simply day-to-day with the flu. Credit the Utah Jazz for having a truly great night from their young guns (assisted by the Thunder's lackadaisical defense), and they made this blowout as fun to watch as it possibly could've been for fans of the losing team. Seven of their players scored at least nine points, all but Trey Burke doing so on more than 50% from the field. I could go on and on about any of their performances.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder lost?
For the Thunder without Serge Ibaka, 48 points for Kevin Durant in 45 minutes on 34 shots and 19 free throw attempts. Sound familiar? It was a night that harkened back to last season's playoffs, as the Thunder were missing a key offensive cog in Ibaka. Practically the entire offense was Durant or Reggie Jackson (20 points) by default, and despite the gaudy totals, it wasn't a great performance. Durant went 14-of-34 and Jackson went 6-of-14, and while both had prolific performances from the free throw line, they couldn't get anything going in real time because the Jazz didn't particularly to defend the rest of the team. Said "rest of team" shot 36.5% from the field and 11.7% from thre. Durant and Jackson, two players, combined for nearly 70% of their team's scoring. Ew.
Of course, we also have to talk about the Thunder's defense. Without Serge Ibaka to anchor it, things were a true struggle. Nobody could contain Derrick Favors or Enes Kanter, and the kick-out pass was a deadly weapon for the Jazz. However, what worried me most was the Thunder's tendency to over-help and leave weak-side shooters wide open. This was noticeable even in the first quarter, and remained a theme throughout the game. Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams had way too many opportunities spotting up on the far corner or wing, and getting looks from three so open that the Thunder sometimes didn't even bother to recover.
What was a key statistic to understanding the game?
Let's stick to the basics: field goal percentage. The Jazz shot 58.8% and the Thunder shot 39.3%. This pretty much ties into the previous section, but it really was an ugly performance to watch for Thunder fans as their team was totally overwhelmed on both ends by one of the league's bottom-feeders. Let's credit the Jazz for good spacing, decisive movement, and intelligent passing. They had a great offensive game against a Thunder team that had to force the ball to two players (they tried getting Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha involved on offense early, but that didn't work out very well).
As a bit of a tangent, I'm also very impressed by the Jazz essentially matching the Thunder's free throw performance. The Thunder racked up the free throw line points, sinking 25 of 31 attempts. However, the Jazz (a bottom-10 team in free throws attempted per game for the season) went 24 of 31 and held the Thunder's advantage in points via free throws to just one. How many games have we seen the Thunder win through volume at the free throw line? When their half-court offense struggles to execute, they get to the line. The Jazz matching that, and also the Thunder's performance in most other statistical categories, allowed the difference in efficiency to be the deciding factor and not something to neutralize something else the Thunder did really well in comparison.
In fact, the only thing the Thunder did do better than the Jazz was create steals while limiting their own turnovers. They had seven fewer turnovers and seven more steals (with those steals creating the turnover differential, so these are two stats that say a similar thing). Seven possessions won't change the outcome a game, however. The Thunder also had 12 more offensive rebounds, but in that case that speaks more to the Jazz being ultra-efficient and the Thunder being ultra-not.
What does this game mean to the Thunder tonight and going forward?
Yeah, it means pretty much nothing. The Thunder will probably get Ibaka back for the next game. Tonight, it sucked. Let them go out and win a bunch of their next games, and we won't even remember this one. Woo!
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant - 48 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks, 0 turnovers in 45 minutes
Thunder Down Under: Reggie Jackson - 20 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals
Thunder Blunder: Jeremy Lamb - 9 points, 4-of-14 field goal shooting, 1-of-8 three-point shooting
Thunder Plunderer: Gordon Heyward - 37 points, 13-of-16 field goal shooting, 9-of-13 free throw shooting, 11 rebounds, 7 assists
Next game: vs. Denver Nuggets @ Pepsi Center (Thursday, January 9th @ 9:30 PM CMT)