In Kevin Durant's first game back since his hamstring injury, the Oklahoma City Thunder have soundly defeated the Utah Jazz, 111-89. Durant led all scorers with 27 points, and did it while shooting 76% from the floor. The Jazz have no one with the length and speed to match up with Durant, so there wasn't much they could do. Russell Westbrook had an impressive game himself, scoring 20 points on 50% shooting. Additionally, Westbrook was a perfect 10 of 10 from the free throw line and had 9 assists.
The Thunder got strong performances from their supporting cast, as well. Serge Ibaka went back to his jumper, taking all 10 of his shots outside of the paint and making 50% of them. Anthony Morrow was a burst of scoring off the bench, working on the weak side for some essential shots during the second quarter. But last and certainly not least was Dion Waiters. Waiters was a big part of the Thunder's runs in the first half, providing defensive pressure and solid offensive decision making. If this Dion Waiters showed up every night, the Thunder would have no issues.
The Jazz weren't as lucky on offense, as they only had three players crack double digits. In general, the Jazz really struggled to find a consistent option in the half court and got caught playing a faster game than they were comfortable playing. For perspective, the Jazz came into this game averaging 35 shots a game, but they took 73 shots tonight. Really though, it was the perimeter shooting that sunk Utah in the end. After the first three quarters, the Jazz had shot a dismal 2 of 14 from beyond the arc.
Why did the Thunder win this game?
The strong play from the Thunder's stars was supported by strong play in the post. The Thunder's two starters, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams, combined for 17 points. But their real impact was felt defensively. Derrick Favors normally averages 16 points per game, but was only able to contribute 11 points tonight. Furthermore, as a team, the Jazz had just 13 makes on 30 attempts in the paint.
Also, Ibaka and Adams had 7 blocks that were key in increasing the pace of the game. The Thunder were successful at having their way with the pace in general, forcing the Jazz into 21 turnovers on the night. That's five more than what the Jazz average. Durant and Waiters led the way in this category, grabbing four steals each. Both Durant and Waiters were terrific as help defenders, running over to steal the ball around a screen or pressure in the backcourt. Overall, the Thunder scored 28 fast break points, while the Jazz only scored 11.
How did the Thunder win this game?
The only time the Thunder trailed in this game was during the first quarter. From my perspective, the Jazz only had success because the Thunder turned the ball over five times in the first quarter. And those turnover issues weren't too much of a big deal. Once Donovan was able to sub in Kanter, Collison, and Waiters without giving up anything defensively, it was easy for the Thunder to get their offense going again.
By the time the second quarter rolled around, the Thunder's bench was moving the ball around for open shots, courtesy of some penetration from Dion Waiters. On the other side of the ball, the Jazz were succumbing to high pressure in the backcourt, and resolved to attack the basket. This resulted in Utah getting in the foul bonus, which is the only thing that kept the Jazz from falling behind by more than 20 at the end of the quarter. The second half saw the Jazz get no closer than 13, and and Durant did not need to re-enter the game in the fourth.
Why were Durant and Westbrook so successful?
I didn't see a lot of typical fare from Kevin Durant. Instead of being ball dominant, Durant was doing almost all of his work off the ball. That meant more opportunities for Durant to shoot off the catch, as well as easier opportunities for Durant at the rim. Westbrook was more ball dominant, but you could tell that he was committed to distributing. When Westbrook did score, it was usually a result of losing his man around a screen. And when Westbrook passed, it was usually because the Jazz pressured him around a screen. But with none of the Jazz defenders able to provide any real screen-breaking threat, it was easy for Westbrook to be efficient.
- I was really impressed with what Waiters was able to do, because it's obvious that the Jazz wanted to pressure him once Westbrook left the game. But Waiters used the pressure to his advantage, and opened the second quarter with three assists in the first three minutes. From that point on, Waiters teammates seemed to trust him, and Dion got some weak side opportunities. This made it much more easier for Dion to work in the halfcourt, Defensively, Waiters was constantly adding pressure and getting out on the break. Two fast break dunks before the end of the second quarter were very demoralizing to the Jazz mentally. Thus, it's fair to say that Waiters was a big catalyst behind the Thunder victory.
- Enes Kanter was voraciously booed every time he got the ball. It was a mediocre game from Kanter statistically, as he had to match up with a stronger big man in Favors, Gobert, or Withey. Kanter simply couldn't get good positioning most of the time, and was ignored on offense. Still, his +/- ratio of +18 speaks for itself.
- Steven Adams scored 7 points today, and all of them came from working with Russell Westbrook. Most of it was in the pick and roll, as Adams thrives when facing up from 3-5 feet away.
- Andre Roberson didn't really have a remarkable game. A nice score in transition, but otherwise blew a couple of opportunities from the corner. Hard to judge him when he gets so few opportunities. Still, decent job of keeping Rodney Hood out of the paint.
- Huge +/- victory for Nick Collison, who had the second highest rate on the team at +22. Because the Jazz rely on having size at the power forward position, Collison didn't have to worry about defending the perimeter. Collison's physical style of play worked on Favors and Booker quite well.
- D.J. Augustin was a part of the victory, hitting a three in the first and second quarters. I really like Augustin's ability to shoot off the catch. I also like how both threes came within the natural flow of the game, rather than due to a set play. Augustin has definitely taken a back seat as far as distributing the ball, but he's almost better as a secondary conduit that can keep things organized.
- Mitch McGary played in garbage time during the end of the fourth. Unfortunately, McGary left the game with an ankle twist and did not return.
- Kyle Singler was reduced to cameo minutes. Few fans will miss him in the rotation, but at least he can hit a three.
- Cameron Payne was reduced to cameo minutes as well.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, who had no one to guard him
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, who also had no one to guard him
Thunder Blunder: Andre Roberson, 1-4 from the floor
Thunder Plunderer: Gordon Hayward, who works really well when moving without the ball within a set
Next Game: Versus the Brooklyn Nets, Wednesday, November 24th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!