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Thunder vs Jazz, final score: OKC defense powers way to road win, 98-89

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The Thunder took advantage of the absence of Ricky Rubio and produced just enough offense to get a big road win.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

box score | SLC Dunk

The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Utah Jazz on the road, 98-89. In a choppy, defensive game that offered little in terms of flow or offensive rhythm, the Thunder took full advantage of the Jazz playing without Ricky Rubio or Raul Neto. The Jazz, relying on Donovan Mitchell to ignite most of the offense, found themselves without consistent playmaking or shotmaking, and struggled to 36% shooting from the floor. The Thunder sweep the Jazz in the regular season with this win, but trail the Rockets by a game for the 3rd seed.

The Thunder’s defensive game plan was predicated on two things — denying Rudy Gobert easy access to the rim (Gobert had 26-17 last game) and forcing anyone but Mitchell to beat them offensively. After a few early miscues in defending the 1-5 pick and roll, the Thunder tightened their defensive awareness and gave up only 8 shots to Gobert all night. He finished with 15-12, which right at his season average, but Gobert was never able to hurt the Thunder inside as he has done before. Even more important, the Thunder did not allow Derrick Favors to pick up the slack as he has done in the past, as Favors was kept in check with only 5 points and 6 rebounds while accumulating 5 fouls on the night.

On the other end of the court, one got the feeling that OKC could have put this game away much sooner if they had just run some semblance of an offense throughout. However, in various stretches during the game, OKC kept finding themselves taking quick jumpers which only aided the shorthanded Jazz. It made for an anxiety-laden affair, as Utah kept things too close for comfort throughout, even as OKC held double-digit leads multiple times during the game.

Paul George once again showed signs of injury, as he only attempted 8 shots on the night, making 2, and most of the time never really looked to shoot. However, he did not lose focus, continuing to play stellar defense on both Mitchell as well as Joe Ingles. Mitchell finished with 25, but on 8-22 shooting, with 3 turnovers. Ingles hit only 1-7 from three.

Perhaps the Thunder’s saving grace was the guy who was perhaps one of the worst last game — Dennis Schroder. For whatever failings of an offensive game plan OKC put forth, one thing that worked right throughout was their ability to get slower defenders, and Kyle Korver in particular, switched onto Schroder. Whenever Schroder got this switch, he hit the jets and made an array of layups and short jump shots, finishing with a team-high 24 on 10-18 shooting to go along with 7 rebounds and 3 assists.

Westbrook finished with a strong stat line of 23 points on 9-19 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and 8 assists, and he too took advantage when facing smaller guys. Even so, more than once he forced a jumper that airballed, rushing an offense that didn’t need to be rushed.

Never the less, while the offense was sketchy, and George’s offensive pullback becoming worrisome, OKC delivered a good win with a sound defensive game plan and keep apace in the standings. Next up — the suddenly scary Nets.

The only other significant thing worth highlighting is the exchange Westbrook had with a fan. Without comment, here is what was caught on camera, followed by Patrick Patterson’s insight on what prompted it.

Next game: vs Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, March 13 at 6PM CST