Thunder at Utah Jazz Game Recap – Nov. 23, 2015

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

SALT LAKE CITY Even though there were about 22 hours in between them, it seemed that the Thunder’s first half on Monday night against the Utah Jazz was simply a continuation of the team’s sensational fourth quarter finish on Sunday night against the Dallas Mavericks.

Head Coach Billy Donovan’s team used a 40-point second quarter to break away from Utah in a 111-89 victory. To be fair, there was one other ingredient in the mix on Monday that wasn’t there on Sunday in Oklahoma City, however. Kevin Durant made his return to the Thunder lineup after missing the previous six-and-a-half games due to a hamstring injury.

“I knew he’d be ready to play,” Donovan said. “He’s a pro and he always handles himself really well… I was just happy for him personally that he could be back on the floor because he loves playing.”

Thunder vs Jazz. Serge blocks, Russ passes, KD scores.

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The perennial All-Star took no time injecting himself into the game, going 4-for-5 from the field and scoring 11 of his 27 points in the first quarter alone. Authoritative finishes at the rim and catch-and-shoot jumpers were a part of Durant’s arsenal. The extent of his dominance was on display when he dribbled into a transition three-pointer mid-way through the second quarter, then capped off the third period by putting his man on skates, driving through the middle of the paint and slamming the ball through the rim. For the night, he went 10-for-13 shooting, including a 7-for-7 mark inside the three-point line.

“It’s like he never left,” Westbrook said of his running mate. “We know how to get him open. He’s one of the best scorers in the world, and he can get a bucket… He has a great mentality, he’s a team guy and is very unselfish. Tonight it showed and it paid off for him.”

Durant’s length, quickness and instincts also helped the Thunder execute on its defensive game plan, as it clogged up the lane and forced Utah into turnovers and tough shots all night long. In fact, the Thunder made nine of its 12 steals in the first half, and held Utah to 38.4 percent shooting on the night, including a 5-for-19 mark from the three-point line while also forcing 21 turnovers.

“We were just being physical,” Westbrook said. “It’s another step in the right direction. I like the way we’re playing defensively. We’re doing a better job. We’re letting our defense run our offense. We don’t go run plays if we get stops, rebounds and get out on the break and use our athleticism.”

The disruptive nature of the defense was predicated on simply being disciplined and being in the right spots rather than gambling, which took away Utah’s primary options on each possession.

“Our guys really did a great job paying attention to detail. It was consistent and it was encouraging to see,” Donovan said. “We made some progress and strides defensively”

“We’re learning, we’re growing and we’re getting better. We just need to keep building on this,” Donovan continued. “It’s a long season and hopefully it’s something we can build upon.”

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Reserves Made an Impact

An added benefit of getting Durant back into the starting group was the ability for Donovan to get back to his regular rotation in the second group, which consisted of D.J. Augustin, Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow, Nick Collison and Enes Kanter. The Thunder’s reserves scored 44 points, as a part of an offensive performance by Donovan’s group that generated 54.5 percent shooting, five double-digit scorers and 22 assists.

“The ball moved pretty well, our defense got us out on the fast break and we were able to score some points,” Donovan said. “Overall it was a great team effort because everybody contributed in some way.”

“We did a really good job protecting the paint tonight, we shared the ball really well and we were connected out there,” Kanter explained.

All of that was aided by 31 fast break points, and one of the many executors of those run-outs was Waiters. The fourth-year guard put together a nine-point, five-assist, four-steal performance in the first half alone, as he helped maintain the toughness that the starters displayed to start the game.

“He attacked the rim well tonight. I think Dion can be a good finisher. There are a lot of things he can do,” Donovan said. “There’s so much more to his game. He can defend, he can put the ball on the floor, he can pass and he can finish at the basket.”

“He was just playing well, doing what he’s supposed to do, coming in and making plays for the second unit,” Westbrook said of Waiters.

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By the Numbers

31-12 - The Thunder’s edge in fast break points on the night, thanks to 12 steals and 21 forced turnovers

10-for-13 - Shooting numbers for Kevin Durant on the night, including a 7-for-7 mark inside the three-point line

44 - The Thunder’s bench points on the night led by 15 from Anthony Morrow and 12 from Dion Waiters

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The Last Word

“Guys are in the right spots. Our defense is leading to our offense so it makes it easy to do what we need to do, and they’re easy reads.” – point guard Russell Westbrook

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