Durant, Westbrook ignite comeback over Jazz
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook asserted their will for the Oklahoma City Thunder as they combined to score six of the Thunder’s eight points in overtime en route to their 104-98 overtime victory over the Utah Jazz Sunday night. Utah scored just two points in overtime. Durant had a game-high 31 points, Westbrook scored 25.
Jazz guard Rodney Hood had a season-high 23 points, Gordon Hayward scored 22 and Alec Burks added 21. After Sunday’s loss, the Jazz have now lost 16 of their last 21 matchups with the Thunder. Utah has yet to win at Chesapeake Energy Arena since Oct. 31, 2010. Before Sunday’s overtime game, the Jazz had not reached 97 points in their previous eight trips to OKC and had lost by an average of 17 points per game.
It was a tale of two halves for OKC in this game. The Thunder trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half and 13 at halftime, looking sluggish, a step behind, and outmatched. Durant and Westbrook fueled a ferocious 25-7 run to start the second half in less than six minutes to shift the course of the game. Shocking no one, the Thunder’s dynamic duo scored 20 of those 25 points. For a point of comparison, the Thunder scored just 38 points in the entire first half.
“I thought to start that third quarter, we were a different team than we were to start the game,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after the game. “I just really thought our team kept their composure coming down the stretch.”
Credit goes to Utah though as they took OKC’s punch and didn’t curl up in a ball. They battled back and kept within striking distance and even held a five-point lead with just over two minutes to go in regulation. Durant made two incredible passes to get the Thunder back into the game. He found a rolling Steven Adams as he drove to the basket to cut the deficit to three with just 89 seconds to go. Durant then found Serge Ibaka on the left corner. Ibaka created separation with a solid pump fake on Jazz forward Trevor Booker, re-established his footing and drilled a clutch 3-pointer. The Jazz responded with a Hayward jumper to give themselves the lead, and then the spotlight went to Thunder coach Billy Donovan. The Thunder trailed by two with just 20.8 seconds left. It was time to see what he could draw up out of the timeout. The play saw the Thunder create a mismatch with Derrick Favors switched onto Durant near the 3-point line. Durant went right at him and drove to the rim for an easy dunk. If that was the play drawn up, Donovan passed the test.
As the Thunder trailed by five and struggled in the first quarter, Durant remained awfully quiet. He didn’t take his first field goal attempt of the game until the six-minute mark of the period. He finished the first half with a total of just two points. That marks a new career-low for points in an opening half.
“I was getting a little frustrated with myself and I just had to calm down,” Durant said of his performance in the first quarter. “At halftime, I told myself to calm down and that if I get the ball, try to score. As simple as that, try to score and then that’s going to open it up for my teammates.”
Durant told reporters after the game that his godfather used to tug his jersey when he he was younger during games where he wasn’t scoring many points. He would tug on his jersey in an attempt at coaching him up. Durant uses that now as a celebration move. And celebrate he did as he scored 29 points after that slow start.
“I don’t think Kevin should go through a first half with only two shots,” Donovan said of the first-quarter statistic for Durant. “It was a little bit misleading because we did have him on some ISO situations where he lost the ball or kind of drove it and didn’t really get a shot up. The other thing, too, is that guys need to find him. I thought we did a better job of being able to find him in certain situations. Give him credit. He kept his composure the whole entire game. Kevin wants to win. He came out and really responded and got going right away.”
It’s always tough to sweep a home-and-home set against any opponent. Utah looked like the hungrier team in the first half. On top of that, they were controlling the tempo like they did in the matchup on Friday. OKC showed perseverance and sheer will power in their victory. They have also now earned their fifth straight win, including nine of their last 11 games. They also currently own the league’s longest winning streak and have now won six straight games on their home floor. After allowing 100 points or more in 10 of their first 12 games, the Thunder have yielded 99-or-fewer in 10 of their last 12 games. The Thunder have stressed patience as there’s a adjustment process going on with Donovan. It appears that the patience is now being rewarded with results.
- If you were watching the Thunder for the first time you would have a hard time believing that they ranked second in the league coming into the game in rebounding. The Thunder came into the game averaging 48.2 rebounds per game, but were outrebounded 44-42. While that might be the case, the timeliness of OKC’s rebounding proved to be the difference as they did a much better job boxing out Utah’s rebounders in the final 10 minutes or so of the game. It’s a team effort when that happens, but major credit has to go to Adams and Ibaka for shutting things down in terms of second-chance opportunities for the Jazz.
- Westbrook showed his resourcefulness to end the first half. You always assume the inbound defender is going to be the goat in that situation. They figure the trigger man isn’t going to be a threat in that situation, especially with the time taken into account. Be that as it may, it’s pretty rare to find another defender getting caught this way and still having enough time to cash in on it.
- Speaking of Westbrook, he only had one (1!) turnover in 40:22 of action. No matter how you slice that up, that’s incredibly impressive. Donovan said that his point guard “really stayed in the game mentally.” I would certainly say so.
- After the game, Durant mentioned that it felt like a playoff game because the Jazz made adjustments, including a change to their starting lineup. The change was inserting Alec Burks into their backcourt. This was done mainly in an attempt to put a bigger defender on Westbrook. “We won, so I guess it didn’t work,” Westbrook said afterwards. Well said.
- It was just two games ago that Ibaka had one of his better games of the season, scoring 23 points and pulling down 10 rebounds against the Atlanta Hawks. He combined to score 15 points and 15 rebounds in the two games against the Jazz. It’s quite clear that he’s very skilled and a valuable asset for the Thunder, but they have to limit his action on offense. He’s a reactor, and he can’t really generate offense for himself. This isn’t a slight on his game. OKC just needs to put him in a position to succeed. It felt like there were too many instances in the game where he was put in a place to create. His thought process, once he gets the ball, should be incredibly cut and dry. The game-tying 3-point basket with 49 seconds to go is the epitome of how Ibaka should be used on offense.
- You let Ibaka do what he does defensively: block shots. He had an incredibly athletic chase-down block on Hayward in overtime. Wow.
- The Thunder got about what you would hope for out and Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter on the evening as they combined to score 23 points (13 and 10, respectively). OKC is now 12-2 this season when their bench outscores the opposing team’s reserves (30-18 against the Jazz). Entering the matchup against the Jazz, Kanter and Waiters had combined to average 22.0 points per game off the Thunder bench. Oklahoma City is one of six teams in the league to have two reserves average 10-plus points.
- That’s the standard for the top two reserves for OKC, but another standard is that they’re not getting much of anything else from the rest of their reserves. Anthony Morrow, DJ Augustin, and Nick Collison combined to play a total of 38 minutes for the Thunder and produced a grand total of seven points. Their cumulative plus/minus in the game was minus-24.
- Quin Snyder is a heck of a basketball coach. He never takes a break from coaching. He’s talking to players during dead-ball situations, talking to players coming to the bench, and going into supporter mode and cheering on the team after solid possessions. The Jazz are caught in the wash that is the 8th spot in the West. It’s going to be a mess throughout the season in that area as teams are looking to fight to get into playoffs. Having a strong coach like Snyder can only help the Jazz. On top of that, he has a nice head of hair.
Next up: Against Portland on the front end of a back-to-back on Wednesday.