The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Utah Jazz on the road, 97-95. In one of the most significant wins of the Thunder’s season, they overcame a 9 point deficit in the 4th quarter to score 30 in the final period against the league’s staunchest defense. On top of that, the Thunder did not succumb late in the game, but continued to deliver key plays that enabled OKC to hang on in the end. Russell Westbrook finished with 38-10-10 and 4 steals with 6 turnovers, and Steven Adams, returning to action after missing two games due to concussion protocol, delivered in big moments with the game on the line.
With only a few games separating the two teams, and with the Jazz finally matriculating in the West, this game was a great test for a Thunder team who had just gotten blown out by the Clippers and Warriors. How would OKC regroup with 4 days to contemplate things? Would they play better than their first time out vs the Jazz? Early on, the answer was clearly in the affirmative, as the combination of Westbrook and Victor Oladipo combined for 35 points on 13-20 shooting. The Jazz are a great defensive team, but they don’t have a ton of quickness on the perimeter, so the Thunder guards were able to produce early on.
But then that 3rd quarter happened. To be sure, 11 point quarters will happen on occasion, even to the best teams. If I told you that OKC scored 11, you could probably guess how it went down. The shots weren’t falling, Westbrook started to press, the turnovers mounted up, and before you knew it the Jazz had turned a halftime deficit into a 5 point lead going into the 4th despite only scoring 19 of their own.
Thus the stage was set for a comeback, and the Thunder returned to their surprising 4th quarter play this year by elevating their defense and delivering big shots. Tying up the game at 84-all, the teams traded baskets and leads the rest of the way. Westbrook once again hit clutch jumpers (after missing 11 in a row during one stretch), including one where he decided to fire up a 21 footer even after getting hit in the eye. And with the Thunder hanging to a 1 point lead, Steven Adams delivered one of the biggest sequences of the night:
It would have been swell if OKC put the game away, but with the Jazz inbounding the ball down three, Gordon Hayward sprung free for a wide-open 3-pointer, knotting the game at 95. Which only meant that Westbrook and Adams had to do their stuff one more time:
(color me shocked that Russ didn’t pull up from behind the arc on that one)
The winning bucket delivers the Thunder a big win in the standings, but also some confidence over a highly competent Jazz team that will be making some noise when the playoffs arrive.
- It was great to see Adams back on the court after going through concussion protocol. He was a bit rusty for most of the game, with his timing and ball handling clearly off against the long-armed Gobert and swarming Jazz defense. But with the game on the line, it was Adams going to the floor to grab key rebounds, blocking a shot, getting a fast break dunk, and screening for Westbrook to get the game winner.
- I love the idea of OKC running offense to post up Westbrook instead of him just running down the court and posting himself up. But much to my chagrin, a frustrating reality emerged. Apparently nobody is good enough to throw him an entry pass. Payne couldn’t do it, Oladipo couldn’t do it, and Andre Roberson couldn’t do it. Particularly in the 4th, Donovan was running Westbrook off the ball for entire sets, and his teammates simply couldn’t get him the ball in any type of position to do much more than hoist a jumper, and Russ was clearly getting frustrated because of it.
- 4th quarter clutch: OKC shot 52.4% in the 4th (holding Jazz to 39.1%), 2-4 from three, 6-7 from the free throw line, and Westbrook scored 14 of the team’s 30 points to go along with 4 rebounds and 2 assists.
- Victor Oladipo had another one of those games where he looks dynamite as long as he’s touching the ball (8-11 from the floor, 18 points) but if he’s not involved in the primary action, he disappears, along with all of his positive basketball assets.
- I am now actively worried about Cameron Payne (instead of cautiously or passively worried). He looks completely lost on the court, only semi-competently capable of finding his own shot. But in terms of setting up the offense, even making simple post passes to Enes Kanter, he’s not getting the job done. His weakness was particularly on display as the 3rd quarter ran down, and Payne for some reason decided to size up veteran George Hill instead of running any sort of play. Hill, unconcerned, simply sat back on his heels and promptly blocked young Cam’s shot when there was literally nothing left Payne could do with the possession. Very frustrating.
I’m not sure what Donovan should do with him at this point, because the bench looked far more cohesive and purposeful with Semaj Christon running things.
- The Thunder got a big win on the same night that Dion Waiters did this.
I call that a pretty good night.
- Watching Alex Abrines trying to chest bump his teammates is an adorable moment, like watching puppies fighting.
Rebel Yell small batch rye, in case you were wondering