In what was an emphatic triumph, the Oklahoma City Thunder avoided their seventh straight loss of the season by beating the Utah Jazz in a 97-82 win. Coming into the fourth quarter ahead by 12 points already, they iced the game comfortably in a strong fourth quarter.
Defense and a lack of second-unit scoring prevented the Jazz from making any type of late-game run to take back the game – while many of the Jazz starters were able to find their scoring groove throughout the game, the second unit failed to hold their end of the bargain and it allowed a solid defensive effort to hold the game down late against fatigued starters.
The Jazz were simply unable to string together any sequence of scores to make a real run against the Thunder in the fourth, only managing to come as close as nine points in the fourth on a Derrick Favors layup. To that, Jeremy Lamb promptly responded with a three-pointer and the Jazz wouldn't score again until two minutes later when Gordon Hayward split a pair of free throws to drop a then-16-point deficit to 15.
The Thunder didn't just win the second unit scoring battle – they dominated it, to the tune of a 44-3 difference. Lamb led the way with 21 points on only eight shots (making all three attempts from deep) off the bench, also adding three steals. Scott Brooks would compliment his defensive effort after the game as well.
"Obviously he scored a bunch of points, but he competed on the defensive end," Brooks said (via Anthony Slater), "He earned his minutes tonight."
Brooks was able to pull out an all-bench lineup late in the first quarter where that lineup was able to rip off a 17-4 run in three and a half minutes to negate an early deficit left behind the starters, capped off with a layup from Lamb at the buzzer that gave the Thunder a 31-29 edge heading into the second quarter. Of those 17 points that the Thunder scored, Lamb recorded nine.
The team as a whole gave a consistent effort on both ends. Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka propped up the starting lineup's offense, although they didn't go about scoring as efficiently as Lamb. Jackson led the team in scoring with 22 points on 18 shots, adding in eight assists for good measure. He looked good, and his shot selection wasn't too unruly after a few games where it became a concern.
Ibaka scored 20 on 19 attempts, and anchored what was a solid defensive effort with four blocks and timely weak-side rotations. Coupled with the ability to play loose from the Jazz shooters (who went 3-of-16 from deep), the Thunder were able to generate 19 turnovers and limit their opponents to 20 or fewer points in every quarter after rebounding from their own slow start in the first.
Gordon Hayward led the Jazz in scoring with 24 points on 15 shots. However, he was the culprit of eight Jazz turnovers, and was only able to convert seven of 14 free throws. While not a bad game exactly, it could've been a much bigger game for him, one that may have been the difference alone.
The Thunder will take on the New York Knicks on Friday, where Derek Fisher will make his return to the Chesapeake Energy Arena as an enemy coach (as if he weren't booed enough as a good guy). Between that and the possibility of Russell Westbrook returning, Friday might just be an even greater triumph than tonight.