Quin Snyder said there was a lot of luck involved.
And Utah’s head coach is right on some levels. Russell Westbrook is the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player for good reason. Good defense makes some impact, but usually the explosive point guard finds a way to break out.
But in Saturday night’s 96-87 Jazz win over Oklahoma City at Vivint Smart Home Arena, the defense on Westbrook was better than good. It was sensational.
“It was a team effort,” Jazz forward Derrick Favors said. “Ricky (Rubio) did a great job on him, and we tried to make it tough on him because he’s such a great player. But it was a great team effort.”
Westbrook’s night showed in the stat sheet. The Jazz limited him to six points on 2-of-11 shooting from the field. They harassed him into seven turnovers over 36 minutes. He ended up with 13 rebounds and nine assists, but he was a team-low minus-18 in the box score. The Jazz simply never let him find a comfort zone offensively. Westbrook is normally one of the most aggressive players in the league, and yet he took only 11 shots. And the shots he did take were mostly short, bounding harmlessly off the rim. For context, Westbrook averaged 35.3 points a game against the Jazz last year.
Utah’s defense of Westbrook started with Rubio, who fought over screens, denied him a path to the rim and kept him out of transition. The Jazz switched defenders on hm consistently, with Donovan Mitchell and Thabo Sefolosha each taking turns guarding him in Rubio’s stead.
And if Westbrook did get into the lane, Favors, Rudy Gobert and Ekpe Udoh were waiting with long arms to contest his attempts to finish at the basket.
“We talked about trying to have energy tonight, in the second night of a back-to-back,” Snyder said. “I was happy with how we came out and played defensively. Obviously, we had a really good night and the score reflected that.”
The Jazz taking Westbrook out essentially killed Oklahoma City’s entire offense. OKC’s offensive rating for the night was 93.8. The Jazz limited the Thunder to 41 percent shooting from the field and 33 percent from 3-point range. Oklahoma City turned the ball over 17 times. Carmelo Anthony and Paul George were the only OKC players to reach double figures.
“We got in their way tonight defensively,” Mitchell said. “We got in their path and we got a lot of deflections and steals. We’re hoping that’s a strength for us this year.”