Jazz defense shuts down Thunder on way to 96-87 victory

Utah Jazz forward Thabo Sefolosha (22) tries to stop Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Chris Nicoll)

It happened, and there were 18,300 witnesses.

Joe Ingles crossed over Alex Abrines.

The 30-year-old wing, whose nickname is Slo-Mo, was all alone at the 3-point line, and all a sprawled-out Abrines could do was watch as Ingles splashed one of his five 3-pointers in a 19-point evening.

It doesn’t happen often, but Ingles had a way of getting what he wanted in the Utah Jazz’s 96-87 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder — a victory that seemed unlikely coming off a loss the night prior, and without one of Utah’s most potent shooters.

Oklahoma City had the benefit of rest, the reigning league MVP, and two other All-Stars new to the team. But Utah had what coach Quin Snyder hoped it would show: a suffocating defense which has been enough to boost the team to a 2-1 record in the first week of the season, all against opponents who added All-Stars this summer as the Jazz lost their own.

“That’s who we are, that’s who we want to be: We want to be a defensive-minded club and try to have our play reflect that,” Snyder said. “It gives us a chance to stay in games if we play good defense.”

Ingles said he had been “told off a couple times” for not looking for his 3-point shot in his first two games. He was looking on Saturday, hitting 5 of 9 from deep on an otherwise iffy long-range night for the Jazz. His release, quick and on target, helped give him 13 second-half points and rallied Utah when the Thunder drew close on several occasions.

Not only did Ingles contribute his normal across-the-statbox line — three rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block — he also got under the skin of his opponents. Both Stephen Adams and Carmelo Anthony were pinned with technical fouls for getting in his grill.

Was it a particularly good night for veteran trash-talker?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ingles said, flashing a smile. “No comment.”

He helped lead a balanced scoring effort for the Jazz. Ricky Rubio had another double-digit night with 16 points and addded five assists. Rudy Gobert helped Utah score twice as many points in the paint as Oklahoma City, finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Joe Johnson and Derrick Favors also scored in double figures, helping offset the absence of injured Rodney Hood. Rookie Donovan Mitchell managed a team-best six assists.

But the talk of the evening was the defense, which held Russell Westbrook (who averaged 35.3 points against the Jazz last season) to only 6 points on 2 for 11 shooting. Paul George managed to have 22 points, and Carmelo Anthony had a game-best 26 on 26 shots, but no one else in the Thunder lineup hit double digits. As a team, Oklahoma City shot only 41 percent.

“Those three guys are All-Stars — you just want to make it as tough as possible,” Ingles said. “I think that everyone who came in and guarded those guys made it really hard.”

Before the Jazz even scored their first points of the game, the Big Three of OKC had all hit jump shots. But after that, the Thunder struggled for much of the first half.

A 14-point first quarter gave way to even more shooting woes in the second: Between the 11:41 mark and the 2:28 mark, Oklahoma City hit only two field goals. The second unit defense, anchored by offseason acquisition Ekpe Udoh, continued its string of strong performances, allowing only five bench points in the first half.

But the Thunder started showing signs of life as halftime approached. A George dunk keyed an 11-6 run to end the first after the Jazz led by as many as 19 points. The Thunder closed the gap to four points several times in the third, but a hard-rolling, hard-dunking Gobert helped bring the Jazz lead back up to double figures.

While the sellout crowd reveled afterward as streamers dropped from the arena ceiling, Snyder was less content to celebrate a game well won. Next, the Jazz take on the Los Angeles Clippers — a team that pushed them to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

The defense the Jazz played on Saturday? He wants to see more of it.

“That consistency has to be our calling card,” he said. “Depth is a good thing, but only if the players make it work. You have to make it work. Everybody has to buy in.”

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