Preseason Recap: Thunder vs. Jazz

THUNDER – 88

UTAH JAZZ – 82

RECAP:

Every point and every turnover counts the same in the stat sheet, but when the Thunder starts the game off playing the type of defense it did on Sunday night, it sets the tone for the rest of the evening.

In an 88-82 victory over the Utah Jazz in the Thunder’s final preseason game this year at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club focused on two areas of emphasis from its last game, defense and ball protection, and executed both areas well. In the first quarter, the Thunder held Utah to just 30.0 percent shooting and only turned the ball over two times, while forcing four Jazz giveaways. Five players scored in double figures for the Thunder, led by Reggie Jackson's 18 and Serge Ibaka's 17, but it was the defense that made the difference.

“We came out of the game with high intensity defensively,” Brooks said. “That’s what we talked about before we came out of the locker room. We had to play with much more force defensively. I thought the guys did that.”

With a starting lineup of Reggie Jackson, Andre Roberson, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams, the Thunder had a mix of veterans and young players to start the game before elder statesmen like Nick Collison and Thabo Sefolosha entered the game later. Brooks continues to tinker with lineups, rotations and combinations on the floor during the preseason, but regardless of who is on the floor, Thunder players are all held to the same standard – to play defense as hard as possible and to the best of its ability.

By coming out of the gate playing stout defense, the attitude set in throughout the roster as the Thunder held Utah to just 38.2 percent shooting for the night.

“It set the standard for especially the players coming off the bench for the intensity of the defense,” Adams said. “The team that came out first did a good job of setting the tone and then the people that subbed in did a really good job of picking it up and raising the bar.”

“We started off the game playing really hard, helping each other out,” Durant said. “I like the way we’re starting off the game. We’re physical, we’re contesting the ball and getting our hands on the basketball to get some easy points.”

After the first quarter the Thunder had outscored Utah 18-2 in points in the paint, and after three quarters it led 15-1 in fast break points – all signs of a team that was preventing easy buckets on the defensive end and working to find good looks on the offensive end. The core tenets of Thunder basketball were on display Sunday night as the team continued to sharpen its skills heading into Oct. 30th’s regular season opener in Salt Lake City against this same Jazz squad. Honing those defensive tendencies now in the preseason and ensuring that all five men on the court are playing in unison will only help the team’s overall growth as the season progresses. Tonight, the Thunder executed its defensive game plan by staying active and working together – a tendency it hopes to maintain throughout the year.

“We’re just trying to contest shots,” Lamb explained. “Some shots they missed, some shots we made them miss. Just being disruptive, being in the passing lanes, not letting them get open shots and not letting them get anything easy contributed to it.”

“With our team, we don’t really play to them,” Adams explained. “No matter who it is, we’re going to play how we play.”

TURNING POINT:

The Thunder held off a late Utah push, never letting the Jazz get closer than six points in the fourth quarter, but it pulled away to build a double-digit edge with a run in the first half. With the score tied at 12 with 4:58 remaining in the first quarter, the Thunder went on a 15-2 run that broke the game open and gave it a cushion it would sustain for the entire game.

The burst started with a Reggie Jackson floater, continued with a Steven Adams hook shot off a pick-and-roll with Kevin Durant, then three straight shots at the rim for Durant and Nick Collison. Taking a 23-14 into the second quarter, Thabo Sefolosha scored the first four points out of the break to give the Thunder a 27-14 lead with 9:48 remaining. From there on out the Thunder’s lead hovered in double digits, and never fell below five points.

PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN’T SHOW, FIRST HALF:

Steven Adams gets good position down low after setting a screen to draw a foul. Adams does a great job of communicating in pick-and-roll defense to force a difficult missed shot. Kevin Durant and Nick Collison both make the extra effort to tip a loose defensive rebound to one another to regain possession. Jeremy Lamb closes out strong on a shooter to force an air ball. Hasheem Thabeet keeps a possession alive by slapping a rebound to himself. Durant sets a strong screen to free up a driving lane for Thabo Sefolosha.

PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN’T SHOW, SECOND HALF:

Lamb unselfishly makes the extra pass to an open teammate in the corner. Adams hustles back into position to grab back-to-back rebounds on both ends of the floor. Great job by Lamb to use his body in transition to free up a lane to the rim. Smart move by Lamb to push the ball in transition to stretch the defense then drop the ball off to Jackson for three. Collison rotates over and draws a charge.

FINAL WORD:

“It’s good that we came out, especially after having two days off, capitalizing off of some of the things we talked about after the New Orleans game. Our defense was really good. We’re helping, staying with our man and not over helping. Guys did a great job tonight. I’m proud of the progression we all made.” – forward Kevin Durant