The Oklahoma City Thunder (21-10) took care of business on Saturday night in Salt Lake City, using 43 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, and five steals from Paul George to come away with a 107-106 victory over the Utah Jazz (16-18). The win is the Thunder’s fourth straight and moves them to 2-0 against their Northwest Division rivals this season.
Utah came out blistering hot, hitting four three-pointers en route to a 32-26 lead after one quarter of play. The second quarter featured signs of life from the Thunder offense, as the trio of George, Jerami Grant, and Dennis Schroder combined to shoot 8-of-13 in the frame — temporarily taking the lead late in the half before Utah closed strong and took a 61-58 advantage into the break.
The third quarter got off to an alarming start for OKC, as Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz got rolling and held a 73-66 lead when Russell Westbrook exited the game with his fourth foul at the 7:25 mark. With the wheels looking a bit loose for the Thunder, George went to work with his superstar point guard on the bench. As has been the case a number of times this season, he did not disappoint.
George loaded the Thunder on his back offensively, scoring 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting (4/6 3P) in the third quarter alone — outscoring Utah 22-20 by himself across the 12 minutes of play. George’s excellence sparked a massive 22-3 run to close the quarter and put the Thunder ahead 93-81 heading into the fourth. In total, OKC outscored the Jazz 27-8 and turned a seven-point deficit into a 12-point lead with Westbrook on the bench in foul trouble.
With George getting much-needed rest to open the final quarter, the Jazz began clawing their way back — cutting the Thunder’s lead to five and forcing Westbrook into his fifth foul with 7:50 to go. Though OKC remained in front, Utah hung around and kept the Thunder’s lead in single-digits before making their final charge and making it really interesting late.
Clinging to a 107-103 lead with 1:24 remaining, the Thunder forced Ricky Rubio into a traveling violation — a much-needed defensive stand for a team on its heels. However, Westbrook took an ill-advised jumper on OKC’s next possession, leading to a rebound and coast-to-coast score for Mitchell to make it 107-105 OKC. Mitchell then came up with a steal on the Thunder’s next possession, but Dennis Schroder was able to steal it back — giving OKC a chance to put the game on ice with less than 30 seconds to go.
In need of a bucket to effectively end the game, Westbrook took the ball and made clear his intentions to shoot it — running down the shot clock before firing a deep three-pointer that bounced off the rim and into the hands of the Jazz. They called a timeout with seven seconds remaining, setting up a chance to either win or tie at the buzzer.
Mitchell shook George off the dribble after the timeout, getting into the lane and rising for a dunk to tie — but Westbrook came in with a foul from behind to take away the easy bucket. It was his sixth and final foul, ending his night with 8 points on 3-of-17 shooting.
Though Westbrook’s night was over, it was up to Mitchell to tie the game at the free throw line with 1.5 seconds to go. Fortunately for the Thunder, Westbrook’s sixth foul was not in vain.
Mitchell tried to miss the second on purpose, but his high-arching toss hit nothing but net. The Thunder were then able to inbound the ball and run out the clock — escaping with the 107-106 victory.
The Thunder will be back in action tomorrow night in Oklahoma City, taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves at Chesapeake Energy Arena. That game tips-off at 7:00 PM CST and will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma.
Paul George: 43 pts, 14 reb, 6 ast, 5 stl, 15/25 FG, 5/10 3P, +8
The PG Takeover. Unlike the United States government, Paul George was hard at work on Saturday — crossing the 40-point plateau for the second straight game. He scored 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first half, but went Super Saiyan in the third quarter, posting 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting (4/6 3P) to outscore the Jazz 22-20 by himself. Though he cooled down and shot just 2-of-7 in the fourth, count this as another game the Thunder lose if not for PG13’s heroics. Oh, and he remembers his last trip to Salt Lake City:
Russ Struggle Bus. Another brutal outing for the Thunder’s point guard, as he scored just 8 points on 3-of-17 shooting — including an 0-of-4 effort from beyond the arc. Though you could argue his sixth foul was the most important play of the game, the Thunder looked dead in the water until he checked out due to foul trouble in the third. All told, Westbrook wrapped up his night as a -12. He did contribute 12 rebounds, nine assists, and three steals but turned it over six times, as well.
Not to Nag. Not to beat a dead horse, but Westbrook’s missed three-pointer that gave the Jazz a chance to tie or win….it was, uh… it was a terrible, terrible decision. He dribbled out the clock, sized up his man, and never once looked for an open teammate. The Thunder won the game and all is well that ends well…. But. You know.
Thunder Scoring. Four Thunder players scored in double-figures: George (43), Adams (15), Grant (15), and Schroder (11). Alex Abrines was solid in 16 minutes of action, wrapping up his night with six points and a team-high +13.
The Other Guys. The Jazz handed out 35 assists to the Thunder’s 16, led by as many as 13, and still found themselves on the losing end of this one. All five of their starters scored in double-figures: Mitchell (20), Rudy Gobert (20), Derrick Favors (16), Joe Ingles (13), and Ricky Rubio (12).
Don’t Look Now. The Thunder are now tied with the Denver Nuggets for the number one spot in the Western Conference.