Woodward, Okla. —
By Michael Kinney
CNHI News Service
OKLAHOMA CITY — There have been many games this season that Oklahoma City has won with its offense. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin in the lineup, it can always put up points.
But for the third straight game, the Thunder showed they can rely on their defense when they want to. Oklahoma City defeated Utah 106-94 Friday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Jazz committed 18 turnovers against an aggressive Oklahoma City defense, which they turned into 25 points.
“We were just physical right when they cross the half court line,” Martin said. “You know with Utah you have to get ready for a physical game. And they try and beat you up on the boards. We just had to be ready.”
After trailing by as much as 18 points, Utah stormed back in the fourth and trimmed Oklahoma City’s lead down to 4 with 7:40 left in the game. It had momentum squarely on its side.
“We just clicked,” Utah’s Al Jefferson said. “We started attacking and got rebounds. We kept them on their toes. We cut it to four.”
But a pair of hustle steals on the same play Westbrook led to a Durant dunk.
Believing Westbrook had fouled Earl Watson twice, Corbin was called for a technical when he argued with an official. Durant hit the free throw and Oklahoma City pushed its lead back to 10.
Down the stretch, whenever the Jazz attempted to cut the Thunder’s lead down to single digits, Oklahoma City found a way to repel them. Whether it was Serge Ibaka or Durant coming up with a block, a steal from Westbrook or a few key offensive rebounds out of Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder made defensive stops when needed.
“The key was just keeping our game plan and attacking on the offensive end,” Martin said. “During that time they were getting some easy fastbreak points so we just had to get back.”
Six players scored in double figures for Utah. Jefferson led the way with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Enis Kanter came off the bench to chip in 15 points. It was the type of performance the Jazz had been waiting on from their rookie from Turkey.
Durant had a game-high 24 points to go along with four blocks.
But it was Westbrook who provided the emotion and intensity on both ends of the court when the Thunder went flat. He tallied 21 points, eight assists and seven steals.
“He was great like he has been all year,” Martin said of Westbrook. “He has the keys to our car. He’s the point guard. We are following him, and tonight was a great example of him getting everybody involved and just having the will power to lead us to victory.”
In his return back to action, Utah’s Mo Williams didn’t waste any time finding his shot. Despite not playing for a week, he took six shots and scored 7 points in the first quarter. However, the Thunder still held a 22-20 advantage after first period.
Oklahoma City’s defense began to assert itself in the second period. Thabo Sefolosha, Westbrook and Eric Maynor forced Utah’s backcourt into numerous turnovers. It was the Thunder’s ability to turn the turnovers into fastbreak points that allowed it to increase its lead to 54-42 at halftime.
“We got some of the quickest players in the league on the wing and that’s how we have to play,” Brooks said. “Get deflections, get steals, get defensive stops. That’s what we talk about. That’s what we work on everyday. We want them to reward themselves with good work on the defensive end turn to easy buckets on offense.”