The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Utah Jazz on the road, 94-90. Playing on the 2nd night of a back to back, the Thunder were able to gain control for most of the game against a Jazz team who is looking to fill in a surprising void in the middle echelon of the western conference. Primarily behind the work of Russell Westbrook and a steady bench, OKC managed to keep the lead in the double-digit range for most of the night.
As the game wound down, however, so did the Thunder. After the fast paced game against the Hawks the night before, in tonight's game the Jazz had the right idea and continuously used their interior size and physical defense to slow down the Thunder. By mid-way through the 4th quarter, it was questionable whether OKC had enough energy to go the distance, as Utah had finally closed on them, tying the game at 87-87 with 1:23 remaining.
Fortunately, OKC has Kevin Durant. He woke up at the right time after struggling through most of the night. He scored the team's final 11 points and provided a clinic on clutch shot making. Also fortunately for the Thunder, Utah doesn't have a Durant.
Utah, to their credit, had a great long game plan in place, but couldn't quite steal the win. Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists.
What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
We witnessed 3 quarters of competent basketball and 1 quarter of clutch shot making. Both are great to watch, although when they're not working concurrently it can cause a bit of trepidation.
The Thunder were able to ride on the coattails of their win over the Hawks to stage a fairly effective offensive attack, and they did it without the benefit of an engaged Durant and an ineffective Serge Ibaka. While the offense wasn't particularly fluid, the team was able to keep the Jazz at arm's length throughout. It was in big part due to Russell Westbrook, who was consistent and in controlled attack mode for most of the night. He frequently posted up the smaller Jazz guards and used it to either attack the lane or pass out of the post.
Lastly, the Thunder defense deserves platitudes for having a game plan that gave the Jazz guards room to shoot, but took away their inside game of Derrick Favors, who was held by Steven Adams and company to only 13 points.
What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?
Hayward played an effective defensive game against Durant, taking a page out of the Tony Allen playbook by playing aggressive and physical against KD. Durant mostly played a passive game on the night, held to only 10 points through 3 quarters, working to set up his teammates. Playing too aggressively against KD can lead to a parade to the free throw line and foul trouble, but Hayward did a good job balancing the line.
However, with the game on the line, Durant took the team on his back and made every shot that mattered. Sometimes, that's enough.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, who scored the Thunder's final 11 points
Thunder Down Under: Enes Kanter, 11 points, 6 rebounds
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, for his 1st half struggles (but totally redeemed himself in the 4th)
Thunder Plunderer: Gordon Hayward, 19 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 unmovable coif
Next game: vs Utah Jazz on Sunday, Dec. 13th at 6PM CDT