Utah Jazz fall short in season-opening loss to Thunder (with video)
By Aaron Falk
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Oct 30 2013 11:06PM
Alec Burks drove into the lane, looking for a teammate and a chance to cut the lead to 1.
An errant pass instead found Kevin Durant.
If the turnover killed an unlikely upset bid of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena, the Utah Jazz didn’t want to show it. Down 5 with just under 38 seconds left on the clock, the Jazz scraped and clawed against one of the premier teams in the West. It wasn’t until a last-second Gordon Hayward heave bounced off the iron that the game had been decided.
In the end, it was a loss — the first of what most expect to be many this year.
But if their 101-98 opening night defeat to the Thunder is any indication, Jazz aren’t going down without a struggle this season.
"We kept fighting," guard Alec Burks said. "We all kept fighting."
With the Jazz down 57-48 at halftime, Burks helped lead the comeback effort, scoring 24 points to go along with six assists and six rebounds.
"Alec really carried us in the second half," said forward Richard Jefferson, who scored 10 points of his own. "We’ve talked as a group, with coaches and without the coaches, that there’s no one person on our team that’s going to carry us. It’s going to have to be a group effort. So I think every night you’re going to see a different guy step up."
Ultimately Durant and the Thunder proved too much for the Jazz. Durant, carrying even a greater load for Oklahoma City while All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook works his way back from surgery, scored a game-high 42 points.
He did more than half his damage from the foul line. The superstar forward finished the night 9 of 24 from the field, but hit on 22 of his 24 free throws.
The Jazz can circle a few troubling stats in the defeat. Utah failed to take advantage of its freebies, missing 10 of 30 attempts from the stripe. The Jazz also committed 22 turnovers, leading to 25 Thunder points.
"They’re learning," said coach Ty Corbin. "We’ve got some guys in some new spots. … They have to learn their way through it. This is who we have. This is what we have to deal with."
The Jazz hung with the Thunder in three of the four quarters.
But the team was outscored 28-19 in the second. The final sequence of the half, in particular, swung moment in the Thunder’s direction.
Jazz point guard John Lucas III fired up 3-point attempt with 5.9 seconds left on the clock. Oklahoma City’s Kendrick Perkins snatched the rebound, and found Thabo Sefolosha, who drained a buzzer-beating triple to put the Thunder up by 9.
"We wanted to make sure we got the last shot," Corbin said. "We took it a little too soon. … We can’t make those mistakes."
Jazz forward Richard Jefferson, who scored 10 points in the loss, said the quarter’s final minutes showed the difference between a veteran squad and an inexperienced team still learning how to play together.
"That’s what veteran teams do," he said. "They’re fighting for those last three minutes of the quarter. You can make a heck of run in the last three minutes. The game kind of slows down. Then it’s a matter of clock management, and who makes the least amour of mistakes and who makes the most plays in those situations. You can either kill a team’s run or you can give them momentum."
Early in the game, Jazz forward Derrick Favors looked ready to make his new four-year $49 million contract look like a bargain. Favors scored eight points and added two assists and a rebound in the opening quarter. He would finish with 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Center Enes Kanter had a double-double, with 15 points and 10 boards on the night.