Oklahoma City • In his ongoing quest for the league’s most valuable player award, Kevin Durant has used the Utah Jazz as résumé padding this year.
Through the teams’ first three meetings, the Thunder superstar was averaging better than 36 points against Utah. So, if Jazz coach Ty Corbin had a vote, Durant would get the nod over four-time winner LeBron James.
Thunder 116, Jazz 96The Jazz trail wire to wire after scoring a season-low nine first-quarter points.
» Kevin Durant has scored at least 25 points in 38 straight games.
"I think so. You look at what he’s done with [Russell Westbrook] being out and the way he’s carried this team," Corbin said. "… LeBron is still LeBron. You can’t take anything away from him. And Carmelo [Anthony] has great numbers, but the way this [Thunder] team is winning and [Durant’s] play, I think he has it."
And that was before Durant scored 31 points and dished nine assists in a 116-96 blowout win over slumping Utah on Sunday afternoon at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. The performance extended Durant’s streak of games with at least 25 points to 38. He did it on just 13 field goal attempts and watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench.
From the outset of Sunday’s game, the Jazz (23-51) were in trouble.
Utah scored just four points in the opening nine minutes. By the time the quarter ended, the Jazz had a season-low nine points and trailed by 17.
"We contested all their shots," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after his team had improved to 54-19 on the year. "Nine points in an NBA quarter is hard to do and it doesn’t happen often. But I thought it set the tempo right there."
"This is what good teams do," Corbin said. "They come out and try to bury you right from the beginning."
The Jazz did some of their own grave-digging too.
Utah hit on just four of its 21 first-quarter shots and turned the ball over four times in the opening period.
A 13-point second quarter from veteran forward Richard Jefferson helped settle the Jazz some. Over the middle two periods, Utah actually outscored the Thunder 68-66.
Center Enes Kanter finished the game with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Gordon Hayward had 16 points and nine assists. Jefferson ended the day with 17 points. And guard Alec Burks, in his first game back after missing four in a row with a sprained ankle, chipped in 12.
The Thunder got 17 points from big man Serge Ibaka and 15 from veteran Caron Butler. Point guard Russell Westbrook, playing in his first game against the Jazz this season, scored 19 points and helped limit Jazz rookie Trey Burke to just two points for the game.
Oklahoma City led by as much as 28 in the contest. But late in the third, the Jazz had cut into the lead and trailed 89-77.
With time winding down, Durant took a handoff from former Jazz guard Derek Fisher. As he played for a final shot, Durant nearly lost the ball with a careless dribble. But the star was unfazed. He peeked quickly at the shot clock in the backcourt, turned and raised up for a 3.
Hayward’s hand hardly mattered.
"It almost took the wind out of our sails a little bit because we fought so hard," Jazz forward Marvin Williams said of Durant’s final points of the game.
"You kind of marvel how good the guy is," Corbin added.
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