Jazz find rhythm in 120-99 win over Thunder
Oklahoma City, Okla. • Jazz coach Jerry Sloan wanted increased energy, improved focus and more efficiency.
He got it and more. And a Utah team that could barely dance just a few days ago suddenly found its rhythm.
Looking a world removed from the squad that suffered two consecutive blowout losses to start the season, Utah shed its lethargic ways and dressed up as its real self for Halloween, confidently knocking off the Oklahoma City Thunder 120-99 Sunday evening in a Northwest Division matchup at the Ford Center.
"They aren't [just] games in a lot of people's eyes," Sloan said. "It's still basketball. That's what life's about. Little things that come up and pop up and throw people all out of sync because their expectations look like they've been shot before you start.
"Nothing you can do about it. But that's always amazed me how fast people can throw you under the bus. But that's OK."
Paul Millsap picked up the Jazz (1-2), recording game highs with 30 points and 16 rebounds. Al Jefferson added 23 points and 10 rebounds for Utah, while C.J. Miles scored 21 and Andrei Kirilenko had 19.
Kevin Durant topped the Thunder (2-1) with 28 points. But the early-season most-valuable-player favorite never found his touch due to Kirilenko's constant up-close harassment.
"I think we did a pretty good job forcing him to take not comfortable shots," Kirilenko said. "Not let him get to the hot streaks."
The energetic, efficient performance was everything Sloan had requested and the much-changed Jazz had promised during a perfect preseason. Utah won every quarter, held a 16-point halftime lead, and used a 17-6 run to open the third period to grasp its first win of 2010-11.
"We got outplayed tonight right from the start," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "The better team won tonight, and there's nothing else you can say about it."
While Millsap beat up the box score, Williams expertly led the dramatic turnaround. Less than two days removed from private frustration that boiled over into a public outburst and a subsequent declaration that the Jazz did not know the offense and needed to simplify Sloan's system, Williams was his normal All-Star self.
"That's what yelling at people gets done," he said with a sly smile.
The guard smoothly glided along the court, lowering his head and consistently connecting with his teammates. And when the court opened up, Williams locked in and charged ahead.
He dished out six assists during the first quarter, had 10 by halftime, and finished with a game-high 15. Everyone from Millsap to Miles and Jefferson benefited from his selfless grace.
"He did what he normally do," Millsap said. "What we see at a game. That's what he does. That's what he brings to our team. We expect nothing less."
Prior to Sunday's contest, the Jazz had been blown out during two losses by an average of 19 points, and Utah's defeats had been set up by slow, messy starts. But the Jazz avoided the troubling trend against a Thunder team many predict will be among the best in the Western Conference.
A 5-4 Utah advantage was the team's first lead of the season. Then, propelled by Kirilenko and Millsap, the Jazz opened up a 13-6 advantage.
The improvement only continued for Utah during the second period as the Jazz outscored the Thunder 29-17 in the quarter to take a 56-40 lead into the break.
Utah then jumped ahead by 27 points, 73-46, after Raja Bell drilled a long-range basket from the left baseline with 6:28 left in the period.
Even a hard press and brief run by Oklahoma City could not shake Utah. Millsap kept firing away, Jefferson stepped up, and the Jazz again looked like the Jazz.
To Millsap, it was Utah basketball played the right way.
"Sharing the basketball. Playing defense like we're supposed to," Millsap said. "I just wish we could've done it in Game 1."
Tribune's Jazz Notes blog
V For video interviews with Utah coach Jerry Sloan and Thunder coach Scott Brooks about the Jazz, see our blog. > sltrib.com/Blogs/jazznotes
P IN SHORT • The Jazz find rhythm, picking up their first win of the season with a 120-99 road victory over Oklahoma City on Sunday.
KEY STAT • Utah records 32 assists, led by a game-high 15 from Deron Williams.
KEY MOMENT • The Jazz open the third quarter with a 12-4 run, building on a 16-point halftime lead.
P Raptors vs. Jazz, 7 p.m. Wednesday
TV • FSN Utah