Jazz stumble against Thunder
As Deron Williams himself noted after Tuesday's loss, the Jazz were so invincible at home only two years ago, they dropped just four games at EnergySolutions Arena all season. The count already is at three this month ... and November isn't even over yet.
The Jazz's three-game winning streak came to a thud as the Oklahoma City Thunder showed their future is now, leading by as many as 19 on the way to a 104-94 victory that marked their first in Utah since relocating from Seattle.
Having gone 70-12 at home the last three seasons, the Jazz already have lost three times -- to Houston, Sacramento and Oklahoma City -- this month. The last time they lost three home games in a month was April 2007.
"We're a team that usually wins 35-plus [games] at home, usually more than that," said Carlos Boozer, who led the Jazz with 26 points. "Right now, we're off to a slow start. We've got to turn this thing around fast, man, because it'll catch up on us.
"Right now, I know we're in the seventh or eighth seed in the West, but teams are going to start picking it up and we've got to do the same thing. We can't lag behind, pile up a bunch of losses early, because it'll bite us in the you-know-where at the end of the season."
The Jazz (7-7) have games remaining against Chicago, Portland, Memphis and Indiana as part of their current six-game homestand. Whatever momentum they had built in recent weeks vanished as the Thunder drilled them 31-16 in the third quarter.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan described the Thunder as a team soon to be "reckoned with" at the pregame shootaround and cited matchup problems at just about every position, starting with a shooting center in Nenad Krstic and shooting forward in Jeff Green.
Sure enough, the Thunder came out firing to open the second half. Kevin Durant hit a jumper over Ronnie Brewer, Green followed with a three-pointer and Krstic nailed a 20-footer. The Jazz switched to a zone defense on the fly, which only spawned more confusion.
Green was left open for a 20-footer and Durant got free for a three-pointer. Sloan called an immediate timeout with the Jazz trailing 67-60. Boozer described the Jazz as suffering a communication breakdown with the zone.
"We got confused as to what we were doing," Sloan said, "and when we have that kind of problem, it's tough to regroup and pull yourself out of a slump."
Durant stripped Brewer and went in for a dunk as the Thunder kept rolling. The Jazz came up empty on five consecutive possessions -- two missed three-pointers by Mehmet Okur and Wesley Matthews followed by three of their 24 turnovers for the night.
The Thunder stretched their lead to 77-64 as Serge Ibaka hit a 14-footer in the lane off a backdoor cut by Durant. Russell Westbrook stroked a three-pointer and flipped in a layup as the Jazz heard boos from the crowd of 17,937, the fifth consecutive non-sellout.
Durant finished with 28 points, Green 19, Westbrook 17 and James Harden 10 for the Thunder. All four were top-five picks in the last three drafts. Oklahoma City added to its list of impressive victories this season against Orlando, San Antonio and Miami.
It led 92-73 with 9:07 to play after Durant drove for a layup. Not surprisingly, as the NBA's second-youngest team, the Thunder struggled to close out the victory, with the Jazz making it a 10-point game with 4:17 remaining after two Boozer jumpers.
Down the stretch, however, Boozer was called for an offensive foul, Paul Millsap for traveling and Williams had the ball stolen. Westbrook hit four free throws to seal the victory for the Thunder, in what Sloan reminded reporters was a key division game.
"A couple calls -- I don't know, a couple 10 calls it seemed like -- slowed our momentum down," Boozer said. "Questionable calls to me, but they've got tough jobs to do."
Williams had 10 points and nine assists, but described himself as playing like "crap" in committing seven turnovers and hitting just 5 of 14 shots. He termed the Jazz's struggles at home "a little disheartening."
"We've just got to get that fire back, just get that confidence back that we can beat anybody," Williams said. "We used to think when people come in here it's an automatic loss and we've got to get that back. Start having fun, too."
IN SHORT » The Thunder turn a one-point game at halftime into a rout, winning the third quarter 31-14.
KEY MOMENT » The Jazz give up open jumpers to Jeff Green and Kevin Durant after switching to a zone defense midway through the third quarter.
KEY STAT » The Jazz presently sit fourth in the Northwest Division behind Denver, Portland and Oklahoma City.
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