The Oklahoma City came out and made a statement in the first quarter. They switched on defensively and held the visiting Utah Jazz to just 9 points for the entire term while setting up a comfortable lead that they held throughout the rest of the night.
It was a very positive start for the Thunder who have had some question marks over their defensive intensity – especially since Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins have been out of the lineup. The Thunder look in sync from the opening tip and they fought tooth and nail on every possession to make it as difficult as possible for the Jazz. It worked and they were able to put the ball in the basket on the offensive end as well, culminating in a terrific opening period of play.
While the next three quarters didn’t have the same intensity, the Thunder never really let the Jazz get close and were able to give minutes to their reserves while playing star duo Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook less than 30 minutes each. Reggie Jackson missed this game with his back sprain, but good minutes from Jeremy Lamb, Derek Fisher and Caron Butler guided the second unit.
Durant kept his Jordan-esque streak alive, netting 31 points and also adding 9 assists, 4 rebounds and a steal for good measure. Westbrook had 19 points while getting to the foul line a lot and Serge Ibaka had 17 points and 6 rebounds. The second unit ensured there was no drop off in production with Nick Collison on the end of some beautiful pick and roll action, while Caron Butler had his eye in from downtown, connecting on all five 3 point attempts on his way to 15 points.
These are the types of games that the Thunder need to put away convincingly and this one was no exception. They would be pleased with their ability to lock in and shut the opposing team down, especially making it difficult for Gordon Hayward who has torched them in games past.
Durant’s scoring streak of games with 25+ points is now at 38 and is a nice side story, while not interfering with what the Thunder want to do. He took just 13 shots and was efficient, but his dedication to making the right play was evident by his assist numbers.
The Thunder are still 3 games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the #1 seed out West and will look to narrow that gap and make a statement as they tackle the Spurs on April 3.
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