Oklahoma City struggled against the new-look Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, but nobody connected with the Thunder was willing to throw back their 101-98 victory at EnergySolutions Arena.
"It just puts everything into perspective," coach Scott Brooks said. "It’s hard to win a game and it’s very difficult to win on the road. I thought they fought back and gave themselves a chance to win. [Utah] is going to be a good team. They’ve got a lot of good young players."
Oklahoma City played without All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, who is recuperating from knee surgery.
Still, the Thunder opened a 79-64 lead in the third quarter before holding off a late rally by the Jazz.
"I thought our guys battled," Brooks said. "We played much better defensively the last three quarters. I like what we did. We did a lot of good things out there. We also did a lot of things that we can watch tomorrow and get better [doing]."
What was the message to his players as Utah rallied within a point, 90-89, with 4 1/2 minutes remaining?
"Every possession — battle, fight claw," Brooks said. "Do whatever it takes to stop your man from scoring. It’s the first game. We obviously have room to improve. But I thought we did that pretty well in the second half."
Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 42 points. He was 9 for 24 from the field, but finished 22 of 24 from the free-throw line.
"They played hard," Durant said. "Utah is a very good team. They move the ball well. They play inside-out. … We just have to be a lot better. I have to be way better than I was tonight. I have to be better setting the tone for the team."
Veteran point guard Derek Fisher finished with four points — all in the final minutes of the first half, when Oklahoma City bumped a 46-45 lead to 57-48.
Like Brooks, Fisher noticed the Jazz’s effort against the favored Thunder.
"Every night is its own night, every game is its own game," he said. "Tonight is a perfect example of why you can’t predict what’s going to happen. That’s what is so wonderful about sports. … You have to watch because you don’t know what’s going to happen. It seemed like we were going to run away with this game, but it ended up being a fantastic game."
In the end, Oklahoma City prevailed despite shooting only 40.7 percent from the field, including 6 for 19 from the 3-point line.
Defensively, however, the Thunder forced 22 turnovers and allowed only 69 points over the final three quarters.
"In the first quarter, they were getting a lot of points in the paint," Brooks said. "I think they had five or six dunks [on] poorly executed defensive plays. But it’s something, as a game went on, that we got much better doing."
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