OKC Lands a 4th Quarter Knockout – OKC 100, UTA 94

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

The Thunder’s tires were spinning on offense, as a mixture of turnovers and missed shots stalled the scoreboard. On the other end, the Utah Jazz were starting to get better and better looks. The road team’s rhythm was building. Then then the fourth quarter started.

Andre Roberson started harassing Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell. Paul George was turning corners and finally found the touch on his jumper. Russell Westbrook played his brand of cruise missile basketball and Steven Adams and Carmelo Anthony bullied the Jazz front line down on the block.

For one of the first times in the fourth quarter all year, everything about the Thunder was clicking. After so many second half stumbles, it was the Thunder’s turn to make a charge and topple the team on top. Despite trailing by as many as 17 in the third quarter, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club ripped off a 20-5 burst to start the fourth quarter, and surged in the final minutes for a 100-94 victory.

“It was just executing, taking our time and getting stops,” Westbrook explained. “It all starts with our defense. When we get stops down the stretch it puts us in great position.”

The Thunder rounded out this healing homestand with its third straight crunch time win, making enough gutty plays down the stretch to defeat the Jazz, who came into the game winners of six straight games. It looked like this could have been the seventh for a long while.

In an ugly first half that featured a combined 28 turnovers, the Thunder scored just 39 points and trailed by eight at the break. Utah was the first to break through the slugfest between two of the league’s best defenses by getting to the rim and knocking down shots from behind the arc in the third quarter, putting the Thunder on the ropes with a 12-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

That’s when everything changed. Thanks to some suffocating defense on the perimeter that prevented straight line drives into the paint, the Thunder was able to shut off the lifeblood of the Jazz offense. Roberson was all over Mitchell, the fearless rookie who had hit tough shots all night. Of all the players on the floor, it was the Thunder’s defensive maestro who changed the complexion of the game. His energy was palpable and it helped hold Utah to just two points in the first 6 minutes of the final frame.

“He changed the game,” Westbrook said of Roberson. “It may not show up in the stat sheet, but he’s the reason why we had a chance to win the game. His defense was spectacular for 48 minutes.”

Dre on defense vs Jazz

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The Thunder’s unit of Roberson, George, Jerami Grant, Raymond Felton and Patrick Patterson forced seven straight missed shots and a turnover by trapping and using length during a four-minute stretch early in the fourth quarter. That stalling of the scoreboard for the Jazz was just enough of a momentum swing to help the starting group get a leg up once they checked back in.

“It’s very satisfying when the bench comes in and we don’t retreat and we don’t have any lapses,” Patterson said. “We just knew we needed to get stops, so whatever it took. Those guys did a great job of switching on the perimeter and me, just trying to communicate when there was a pick and roll.”

“We just felt the energy out there,” George added. “You feel that. You know when you’re getting a stop after another stop.”

Westbrook helped the Thunder close it out and he pitched a near perfect game, with just one error, down the stretch. After 15 in the first half, the Thunder turned it over just 4 times over the final 24 minutes of play, with much credit going to Westbrook and his direction. The reigning MVP racked up 34 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds and was the floor general all night.

“Russ had a win-at-all-costs attitude at every point in the game,” George said. “He kept us fighting. He kept us in the game. It was his mentality. It just felt that we weren’t going to lose that game.”

“We took our time, executed our play, found something that was working for us and stayed with it,” Anthony noted. “We were just utilizing our options, picking our spots and seeing what they were giving us and taking advantage of that.”

After going up three at 90-87 on an Anthony pick-and-pop jumper to cap the Thunder’s monster middle of the quarter run, the Jazz responded with five straight points to retake the lead for the final time on an Alec Burks and-one layup with 2:02 to go.

That’s when the Thunder’s All-Star newcomers shook off their tough shooting starts and went to work. George drove left and turned the corner, arcing a lefty layup high off the backboard while getting clobbered by Rudy Gobert.

“I just knew I had to get it up high enough or attack him quick enough to beat him off the dribble and not let him go get it off the glass,” George described. “That’s what we were brought here for, to make timely baskets and make big shots.”

The old fashioned three-point play gave the Thunder the lead for good, and after another stop Westbrook identified the mismatch as Anthony bullied his way down to the block for a post up, quick spin and finish at the rim.

“I was just trying to give us something different, trying to get something easy to the basket in the paint instead of just settling,” Anthony said. “It gave us some confidence tonight as a team.”

Adams finished the next possession with a tip-in, and Westbrook and George closed down the final seconds with three free throws to seal the hard-earned victory, bringing the Thunder’s record to 11-12 on the year, just two games out of fourth-place in the Western Conference standings.

Thunder Highlights:

By the Numbers

14 – Assists for Russell Westbrook on the night, in addition to 34 points and 13 rebounds

32-14 – The Thunder’s scoring edge in the fourth quarter, when it held Utah to just 30 percent shooting

58 – Points in the paint for the Thunder, where it shot 29-for-40 while holding Utah to 20-for-38 shooting in the lane

The Last Word

“We’re just finding ways and we’re doing it together to win games… We have three elite scorers, three elite playmakers that can close games out together. To close this game out, we had one plan and we stuck with it, and we all contributed.” – forward Paul George

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