5-for-5 Three-point shooting numbers for Caron Butler, who scored 15 points as the Thunder shot 11-for-18 from the three-point line
8 Rebounds for Steven Adams, who also had eight points and two steals
9 Points the Thunder held the Jazz to in the first quarter, tying to lowest for an opponent in a quarter all season
23-for-26 Free throw shooting numbers for the Thunder, including 9-for-9 each from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook
26 Assists for the Thunder, including nine from Kevin Durant, five from Derek Fisher and four each from Russell Westbrook and Jeremy Lamb
31 Points for Kevin Durant, who extended his streak of games with 25-or-more points to 38, two shy of Michael Jordan’s modern record
41 Bench points for the Thunder, thanks to eight from Nick Collison, who also had seven rebounds
March 30th, 2014
Over the first nine minutes of Sunday’s game, the Thunder grinded away on the defensive end possession after possession, erasing chances to score with each closeout and contested shot.
In a 116-96 victory over the Utah Jazz at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club was suffocating on the defensive side of the floor to start the game, holding the Jazz to just nine first quarter points. Utah shot just 41.9 percent from the floor for the game, but it was a Thunder effort that forced the Jazz into 4-for-21 shooting and four turnovers in the opening 12 minutes of action that set the tone from the start. The execution was solid for the Thunder amongst all five players because team leaders like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison set the tone in displaying both the physical and mental aspects of the Thunder’s defensive identity.
“We just came out with a defensive mindset,” Westbrook said. “We did a good job of worrying about what we’re doing and not worrying about who we’re playing. We’re just going out and playing our brand of basketball.”
“If we’re good at the very beginning of a possession and at the point of where the play begins, we usually don’t have to make a really tough closeout at the end of the play,” Collison explained. “We’re doing a good job of playing a good five-man defense and it’s showing on the scoreboard.”
Those defensive stops for the Thunder turned into opportunities in the secondary break and in the half court for the Thunder to attack before the Jazz’s defense was entirely set. When the Thunder can use steals or defensive rebounds to start possessions with plenty of time left on the shot clock, it gives the team a chance to build a rhythm and tempo to its offense. This afternoon the Thunder shot 55.4 percent from the floor, including 11-for-18 from the three-point line thanks to 26 assists by the team as a whole.
“We’re getting to our spots and we’re running our offense hard,” Collison said. “That makes the passes easier to recognize. When you’re playing in space, the reads are simple and the passes are easy and then the shots are easier.”
The Thunder’s ball distribution was led by Kevin Durant, who dished out nine assists in addition to his 31 points. That total pushed his streak of games with 25-or-more points to 38 straight games, the most since Michael Jordan set the modern record of 40 in the late 1980s. Russell Westbrook added 19 points and four assists and Serge Ibaka tallied 17 points, while Jeremy Lamb and Derek Fisher combined for nine assists as the Thunder’s bench racked up 41 points. It was Durant’s philosophy of taking what the defense gives him that set the standard for the entire team, as the Thunder’s All-NBA forward simply made the correct play each time down court.
“If I’m open I shoot it and if I’m not I pass it,” Durant said. “Russell got some good baskets off of it and Serge hit some jump shots. I’m just trying to simplify the game and my guys make it easier to go out and do so.”
One of the beneficiaries of Durant and the entire Thunder squad’s selflessness on the offensive end has been Caron Butler, who has been relied upon in catch-and-shoot situations since he joined the squad. This afternoon Butler knocked down all five of his three-point attempts as he led the bench with 15 points. By understanding the importance of proper floor spacing and also having a veteran’s consistent mindset, Butler has made himself available as a reliable outlet for Durant, Westbrook and other playmakers as they drive-and-dish.
“I’m just playing off of one of the best players in the game in Kevin and then Russ,” Butler said. “I’m getting to the open spots and then getting my legs up under me then knocking down the shot. Coach (Brooks) is telling me to just stay aggressive and get to my spots and take advantage of the opportunities. I welcome that.”
The wire-to-wire victory for the Thunder meant that an early burst did the trick in determining the final outcome of the game. The Thunder started the afternoon with an 11-0 burst and the Jazz would never get closer than nine points the rest of the way. The defensive effort led the way, as the Jazz failed to score for the first 4:26 of the game because of seven straight missed shots and a turnover.
The Thunder’s offense got its first bucket on a Steven Adams layup off of a Kevin Durant pass, then Russell Westbrook and Durant each added short jumpers. Westbrook then found Durant in transition for a three-pointer, and two Durant free throws made it 11-0 Thunder with 7:46 left in the first quarter.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, FIRST HALF:
Excellent anticipation by Kevin Durant on the weak side to slide over from behind and make a steal. Andre Roberson flies in on the offensive glass to tip out a rebound to Durant. Strong box out and defensive rebound by Steven Adams to end a defensive possession. Good awareness in transition by Adams to pick up an open man and contest a three-point shot. Nice footwork by Durant on defense to stay in front of his man and force a travel.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, SECOND HALF: Roberson battles in the paint to stick with his man and draws an offensive foul on Gordon Hayward. Amazing non-verbal communication and understanding by Durant and Russell Westbrook on a back-door cut and layup. Roberson stays active with his length and slaps the ball off of Hayward and out of bounds. Derek Fisher fights through a screen and draws an offensive foul on the Jazz. Good job by Nick Collison to front his man in the post, forcing a difficult entry pass.
The defense really set the tone in the first quarter. They shot a low percentage. We were really getting into the basketball. We contested all of their shots. - Head Coach Scott Brooks