If Utah Jazz fans didn’t know Mike Harris before Wednesday night’s season opener against Oklahoma City, they know him now.
In 22 minutes, Harris scored a career-high 13 points and grabbed four rebounds during the Thunder’s 101-98 victory at EnergySolutions Arena.
More than his statistics, Harris endeared him to the sellout crowd of 19,911 with his determined defensive effort on Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant.
Harris eventually fouled out, but he helped force Durant into 9-for-24 shooting from the field.
Not a bad for a player who made the roster as a free agent.
“Tremendous,” said coach Tyrone Corbin. “You really root for a guy like Mike to come out [and play well] against a guy like Durant. …
“Durant is going to score points. But he made him work for everything. He didn’t back away from the challenge and the guys did a great job around him — stepping up and helping.”
Harris got a chance to play for two reasons. No. 1, the Jazz had only 10 healthy players available. Trey Burke, Jeremy Evans, Andris Biedrins, Marvin Williams and Brandon Rush missed the game with injuries.
No. 2, starters Gordon Hayward and Richard Jefferson picked up two fouls in the first quarter while trying to guard Durant.
The foul trouble forced Corbin to look toward the end of his short bench. There, he found Harris.
“Just trying to help the team any way I can — provide energy,” he said.
In the fourth quarter, Harris was part of a group which narrowed an 11-point deficit to 90-89 with 41/2 minutes remaining.
“[When] I came in, we were down,” Harris said. “We huddled the guys up and said we were going to fight and chip away. And we chipped away. … We just stayed focused and executed the game plan.”
Leading by two, Oklahoma City extended its lead to 90-85 when Reggie Jackson drilled a long 3-pointer.
It appeared the Thunder were going to pull away, when the Jazz went four possessions without a point. But with 4:50 left, Harris calmly dribbled around a screen and drilled an 18-footer to get Utah going again.
“Before that, I had missed a couple of shots,” Harris said. “Coach came to me and told me they were all good looks and to keep shooting the ball.
“… I’ve been pretty consistent making my mid-range shot [in practice] and they went under the screen there. So it was a wide-open look for me.”
• In his first game with the Jazz, Mike Harris scores 13 points and grabs four rebounds.
• Harris’ aggressive defense helps limit Thunder star Kevin Durant to 9-for-24 shooting.
• Harris got his chance to play when Gordon Hayward and Richard Jefferson committed two quick fouls.