Oklahoma City entered tonight’s game with a 15-15 record, sitting at .500 for the seventh time this season. In 30 games, the Thunder has only been over .500 twice. Tonight, however, the mold was broken, and Oklahoma City managed to get over the hump as the Thunder throttled the Utah Jazz 107-79.
The Thunder started off the game in their typical fashion as they jumped out to a 7-0 lead through two minutes. They didn’t stop there, though, as the entire period was just one big play after another. The defense laid it on thick, and the offense was able to hit shots, led by Russell Westbrook’s 14 first quarter points on 6/6 shooting from the field and 2/2 from the free throw line. After the first quarter, the Thunder had a commanding 25-9 lead over the Jazz.
Utah came out in the second quarter looking a little more composed as they closed the deficit to 10 in just under four minutes, but Oklahoma City didn’t let up. Westbrook continued his scoring effectiveness, adding another six points to his total, but he wasn’t the only one. Paul George chipped in for six points, Jerami Grant had five, Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams had four apiece, and Raymond Felton had three as the Thunder played a pretty even-keeled quarter to maintain their 16-point lead and enter halftime up 53-37.
The third quarter has been the Thunder’s worst of the season by far, but that was not the case tonight. Oklahoma City came out firing on all cylinders, and while Westbrook was able to add four points to his stat line to bring him to 24 on the night on 10/13 (76.9%) shooting, it was Paul George and Carmelo Anthony who would show up big in the third. George and Anthony scored 10 points apiece on a combined 5/9 (55.6%) shooting from the field and 7/10 (70%) from the free throw line. Steven Adams and Andre Roberson added in four apiece as well, and the Thunder led by as many as 33 in the period. After three quarters, the Thunder were on top of the Jazz 87-60.
The fourth quarter was mostly spent maintaining the large lead, and, predictably so, Paul George was the only starter who saw minutes in the final period. The bench was able to get in some valuable minutes, while the starters were able to rest, and in a mild fourth quarter, Jerami Grant had perhaps the highlight of the night with a monster putback dunk.
Aside from the dunk and fan-favorite Nick Collison getting some late minutes, the final quarter went about as expected and in the end, Oklahoma City picked up the win to get above .500 for the first time since being 4-3 on October 31.
3 Quick Thoughts
- Defense Leads to Offense: All season long, this Thunder squad has relied heavily on defense, and tonight, that was no different. Oklahoma City was able to force Utah into 19 turnovers, and the Thunder tallied 15 steals, which ties for their second-most all season long. The major difference in tonight’s game was that not only was Oklahoma City able to play lockdown defense, but the Thunder was able to hit shots at a high percentage. Oklahoma City shot a season-high 51.9% from the field tonight, and because of it, this game was never close. In games where the Thunder is able to shoot at least 45% from the field, they are 9-2. The two losses came against the Minnesota Timberwolves early in the season, which were decided on the final possessions of each game. Basically, if the Thunder can continue to play defense at a high level, they are going to have more opportunities on offense. And if the Thunder can move the ball and take not just good shots, but great shots, then they just might be unstoppable.
- Team Ball is Key: Russell Westbrook opened up the first quarter shouldering most of the offensive load, which is nothing new for Thunder fans. He had to do that often last season, and while it worked a lot of the time, his efforts alone are obviously not enough to win every single game. Tonight, he wasn’t getting much help, until the second half, that is. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony showed up in a big way in the third quarter, and their efforts were what ultimately put the game away. The three stars combined for 60 points on 20/37 (54%) shooting from the field, including 4/11 (36.3%) from three, and 16/19 (84.2%) from the free throw line. Rarely have all three of the Thunder’s “Big Three” performed at a high level, and while their stat lines weren’t out of this world, their efficient play made the difference between a third quarter blowout and a third quarter meltdown.
- The Bench was Solid, Not Spectacular: It is always a good thing when backups can pickup extra minutes in a blow out. The Thunder’s bench has had question marks floating around for most of the season, and part of that has been a lack of consistency in scoring. Tonight, several guys stepped up to put up some points, but they had their rough patches at the same time. Jerami Grant had his best game in a while as he put up 11 points on 5/7 (71.3%) shooting, which included some monster dunks. Raymond Felton added in seven points of his own, and five other guys off the bench scored at least one field goal. If this bench unit can play with a higher level of consistency, specifically from guys like Grant and Felton, then some of the pressure will be taken off the starters, and in turn, allow the game to flow a lot better in general.
Hosting the Hawks
Oklahoma City stays home to play the third game in a three-game homestand as the Thunder hosts the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night. The Hawks own a league-worst 7-24 record, so the Thunder should expect to handle them with ease. The game will tip off at 7 PM and will be televised on FSOK. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Be sure to check out this week’s episode of Thunder Things with the Thunder Guys.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and give us a like on Facebook.