4-for-8 Three-point shooting numbers for Thabo Sefolosha, who also had seven reboundss
5 Blocked shots for Serge Ibaka, who finished with 16 points and eight rebounds
6 Offensive rebounds allowed by the Thunder, tying an opponent season low
9 Assists for Kevin Durant in addition to 21 points and 12 rebounds
12 Steals by the Thunder, including 10 by its starting lineup
16-11 The Thunder’s advantage in points off turnovers, as it forced Utah into six more giveaways
25 Points for Russell Westbrook, a game-high
April 9th, 2013
SALT LAKE CITY – There was no breath-taking run, barrage of three-pointers or fast break clinic. For the Thunder against the Utah Jazz, Tuesday night was just a sound, solid, consistent win.
There were only two lead changes and one tie in the Thunder’s 90-80 victory on the road over a surging Utah team, but the lead never swelled to more than 14 for Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club on the night. Thanks to a lock-down defensive effort, incredible work on the defensive glass and steadiness on the offensive end, the Thunder rode a combined 76 points from the starters and a 21-point, 12-rebound, nine assist effort from Kevin Durant to win the game.
“We just wanted to follow the game plan,” Durant said. “We knew exactly what this team wanted to do. They throw it in the paint, they cut and they pass the ball well. We knew we had to make second and third efforts and I think we did that.”
The Thunder held the Jazz to fewer than 20 points in the first, second and fourth quarters, and to under 40 percent shooting total for the game. In addition, the Thunder made 12 steals, blocked seven shots and turned 17 Jazz turnovers into 16 points. By concentrating fully on each possession on both ends of the floor, communicating with one another and playing selfless within the team construct, the Thunder took care of business.
“I think those games are sometimes the best games to have,” forward Nick Collison said. “Instead of the games where everything goes perfect and you blow someone out. The ones where you have to grind, you kind of keep the lead the whole game- that’s hard to do in the NBA against a team that is playing well... The best thing about it is our mindset was good, meaning we were kind of on every single play.”
This win was important for the Thunder for another reason – it was an opportunity to improve upon the team’s record after losses, making Brooks’ squad 17-4 in such games. Coming into this one, the Thunder knew that the Jazz would try to play deep into the paint, muscle up and be the physical aggressors. That didn’t matter to the Thunder, as it turned it right around on its opponents, winning the battle on the boards and in second chance points.
“That is one of the strengths of our team,” Brooks said. “We always seem to figure out ways to get better after a loss. That is a great characteristic to have, the bounce back mentality, and we have that.”
Coming into this game, the Thunder had determined a couple of key areas that it wanted to perform better in moving forward. Besides playing committed, hard-nosed defense for the entire shot clock and for the entire 48 minutes, the Thunder also wanted to box out strongly and be assertive on the defensive glass. Against one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league, the Thunder allowed only six offensive boards, tying an opponent season low, and only seven second chance points.
To veterans like Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher it was exciting to see the team self-assess and analyze an area where it wanted to improve, then on the very next night, go out and get the job done. Though the team and its leaders like Durant and Russell Westbrook are still young, it is a group that has experience, and the requisite maturity, to improve and make adjustments on the fly.
“We did shore some things up tonight,” Fisher said. “I think it shows our ability to- when we see something and recognize something and our coaches kind of call us on it- that we can respond. We don’t always want to wait for that, but it’s a reality of the business and so we definitely showed some growth tonight.”
The Thunder never truly made a major burst in this one, rather gradually extending its lead over the course of the evening. In the closing minute, however, the Jazz cut the Thunder’s lead to 84-80 with 23.4 seconds remaining. However, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder closed the game out on a 6-0 run to seal the win. Durant knocked down two free throws, then on a critical Utah possession, Westbrook jumped the passing lane to make a steal and send home a Thunderous exclamation point of a dunk. Two more Westbrook free throws after another defensive stand took care of business.
Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Quick hands by Durant to tip a kick-out pass and nice awareness by Westbrook to snatch up the loose ball. Strong box out by Ibaka to grab a defensive board, then Durant rewards him with a slick bounce pass for a jumper. Westbrook dives on the floor to collect a loose ball on the defensive end. Nice box outs by Collison and Thabeet to secure a defensive rebound. Jackson hustles to save a ball in-bounds to start a fast break. Incredible hustle by Westbrook to run all the way back in transition to strip the ball away and stop a fast break.
Plays the box score won't show, second half:
Smart defensive anticipation by Westbrook to come and pressure Al Jefferson from behind and by Durant to jump the passing lane to start a fast break. Beautiful interior wrap around pass from Perkins to Ibaka for a slam dunk. Incredible toughness by Ibaka to fight through contact on the offensive glass to get a put-back. Martin sticks with the play to snatch up a loose ball and regain possession. Strong defensive rebound by Durant to battle through the bigger Paul Millsap.
“We had great intensity. We came out with the mindset of getting stops every time down the court and we did that. We did a great job.” – Head Coach Scott Brooks