NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder outlast Jazz 101-87
Utah, which has now lost 8 of its last 12, can’t keep up with Thunder.
Published: February 12, 2012 11:41PM
Updated: February 11, 2012 09:28PM
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Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Jazz guard Devin Harris (5) scores two as the Utah Jazz host the Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA basketball at EnergySolutions Arena Friday, February 10, 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Jazz center Al Jefferson knows it’s been rough, and he’s fully aware it’s not going to get any easier.

Utah’s two-month road test has just begun, a back-to-back-to-back away series awaits, and the Jazz have lost eight of 12 games after falling 101-87 to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday at EnergySolutions Arena before a sellout crowd of 19,911.

Thunder-Jazz box score: http://bit.ly/wpa97u

Jefferson scored a team-high 20 points, but he had to sweat for every shot, never looked at ease, and was exhausted by the time Utah (13-12) had dropped its third consecutive contest.

He was also talked out by the time a collection of media members and television cameras had their postgame fill, leaving him alone to sit humped over in his locker-room chair and consider the challenge the unproven and backsliding Jazz face.

Soon, though, Jefferson saw a little light. He longs for the playoffs. Teammates such as Earl Watson, Paul Millsap and Gordon Hayward want the same thing. And the only way Utah is going to make it to the postseason is by rising above adversity, sticking together and proving to anyone who doubts what it’s ultimately worth.

“We’ve got to get through this,” Jefferson said. “I’m looking forward to going on the road, because it’s going to be us against the world. I trust this team. That we will stick together; that we will find a way to do it.”

The Jazz have much to do and little time to do it.

The team’s offense is again a mess, its defense is prone to crucial lapses, and after Russell Westbrook dropped in a game-high 28 points for the Thunder (21-6), Utah has effectively becoming a proving ground for speedy and aggressive NBA point guards.

“They took the game to us,” Jazz guard Raja Bell said. “They were aggressive. We got stuck in one mode and were never able to transition into something else.”

The realization wore in as each quarter was erased.

Westbrook was in charge.

Kevin Durant could pop in and out whenever he wanted.

Oklahoma City? One of the most athletic and talented teams the NBA has to offer, and far too much for Utah to handle.

The Jazz entered the game falling backward at the same time Western Conference teams such as Houston, San Antonio and Dallas were finding rhythm during the lockout-shortened season.

Utah was initially ready for the challenge Friday, and the Jazz’s offense was almost perfect during the first quarter. Devin Harris pushed the tempo, Bell scored 10 points and sank two 3-pointers before the second period arrived, and Utah jumped out to a 19-15 advantage.

But the Thunder were just as smooth. Oklahoma City shot 55 percent (11 of 20) during the first quarter, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka combined for 17 points, and the Thunder pulled within 30-27 heading into the second.

Then Earl Watson and C.J. Miles hooked up. With the former throwing perfect lobs and the latter slamming down high-flying power dunks, Utah’s speedy second unit propelled the Jazz to a 36-30 advantage.

Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks responded by pulling Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka off the bench with 7 minutes, 11 seconds left in the second quarter. The move was perfectly timed. OKC sprinted away on a 10-0 run, and Westbrook’s 15 first-half points gave the Thunder a 49-44 lead heading into halftime.

A quick post-break run led by Hayward made it 58-56 Utah.

But Westbrook continued to run the court at full throttle, gunning through the lane for reverse layups and pulling up for stop-and-pop 2s. Ibaka kept pounding away inside, and when Durant found his touch — drilling a fast-break 3 from the right wing — Oklahoma City turned a seamless 16-4 run into a 72-62 lead with 3:13 left in the third.

Again, the Jazz’s second unit gave the team life.

Rookie center Enes Kanter punished Thunder reserve Nick Collison on the low block, and when a mid-range jumper by Josh Howard pulled Utah within five, Brooks called an immediate timeout.

OKC’s second game-stopper was a game-changer.

The Thunder rolled off another smooth run, and by the time Brooks was about to put Westbrook and Durant back on the court, the Jazz were staring at an 85-73 deficit and the realization their future isn’t about to get any easier anytime soon.

“I’ve been in this position a lot of times in my career. And if I have to be in this position, I’m glad I’m in it with these guys,” Jefferson said. “Because everybody in here is a fighter. Nobody likes to lose. And everybody is going to find a way to get this back on track.”

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Thunder-Jazz box score: http://bit.ly/wpa97u

Storylines

R In short • The Jazz start strong but allow Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City to pick them apart.

Key stat • The Thunder attempt 32 free throws to Utah’s 13.

Key moment • Oklahoma City uses a 16-4 third-quarter run to put the Jazz away.

Thunder 101, Jazz 87

FG FT Reb

OK C Min M-A M-A O-T A PF Pts

Durant 37:52 6-10 6-6 0-5 2 2 19

Ibaka 33:21 7-10 2-4 5-11 2 1 16

Perkins 31:16 3-5 4-4 3-10 2 5 10

Westbrk 33:44 10-20 7-8 1-6 3 1 28

Cook 23:24 1-9 0-0 0-1 0 2 3

Harden 34:44 2-8 6-8 0-5 2 4 11

Collison 17:26 2-2 0-0 0-4 0 3 4

Mohmmd 13:57 3-4 0-0 1-3 0 1 6

Jackson 14:16 1-6 2-2 0-1 1 1 4

Totals 240:00 35-74 27-32 10-46 12 20 101

Percentages: FG .473, FT .844. 3-Point Goals: 4-20, .200 (Durant 1-1, Harden 1-2, Westbrook 1-4, Cook 1-9, Jackson 0-4). Team Rebounds: 7. Team Turnovers: 17 (16 PTS). Blocked Shots: 4 (Ibaka 2, Jackson, Perkins). Turnovers: 15 (Westbrook 4, Harden 3, Durant 2, Ibaka 2, Collison, Jackson, Mohammed, Perkins). Steals: 10 (Westbrook 5, Harden 2, Collison, Cook, Durant). Technical Fouls: None.

FG FT Reb

Utah Min M-A M-A O-T A PF Pts

Hayward 32:36 6-10 1-2 2-2 4 3 13

Millsap 34:13 4-15 2-2 2-9 4 3 10

Jefferson 34:13 9-18 2-3 1-8 4 2 20

Harris 28:01 5-7 1-2 0-0 7 6 11

Bell 29:40 4-5 2-2 0-2 1 1 13

Howard 15:24 1-5 0-0 0-4 0 2 2

Miles 18:43 4-9 0-0 0-1 1 2 8

Watson 19:36 0-1 0-0 0-1 6 1 0

Favors 13:47 3-6 0-2 0-0 0 1 6

Kanter 13:47 2-4 0-0 1-5 0 0 4

Totals 240:00 38-80 8-13 6-32 27 21 87

Percentages: FG .475, FT .615. 3-Point Goals: 3-9, .333 (Bell 3-4, Harris 0-1, G.Hayward 0-1, Miles 0-1, Howard 0-2). Team Rebounds: 6. Team Turnovers: 15 (17 PTS). Blocked Shots: 3 (G.Hayward 2, Jefferson). Turnovers: 15 (Harris 4, Jefferson 2, Kanter 2, Millsap 2, Watson 2, Favors, Howard, Miles). Steals: 8 (G.Hayward 2, Millsap 2, Favors, Harris, Howard, Watson). Technical Fouls: None.

Oklahoma City 27 22 25 27 — 101

Utah 30 14 21 22 — 87

Attendance • 19,911. Time • 2:17.

Officials • Ken Mauer, Tommy Nunez, Leon Wood.