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In a series of his former teams, Enes Kanter sides with Thunder over the Jazz

New York Knicks' Enes Kanter, right, a former Oklahoma City Thunder center, poses for a selfie with a fan before Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series between the Utah Jazz and the Thunder in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, April 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma City • With the reception Enes Kanter received on Wednesday night, you’d never guess he’d been traded.

As Kanter lounged courtside an hour before tipoff of Game 5 between the Thunder and the Jazz, roughly two dozen fans, media and Thunder staffers approached him in a 15-minute span. They shook his hand, posed for selfies and some gave him hugs.

Kanter, the 25-year-old Turkish forward who spent two-and-a-half seasons in Oklahoma City, welcomed them all.

“It just shows how nice they are,” he told The Tribune. “I was here for two-and-a-half years, and every day, they showed me so much love, and that’s why I wanted to come back here, to show this city my love and my support.”

Shortly after Kanter called the Thunder faithful “the best fans in the world” last year, he was sent to the New York Knicks in a blockbuster trade for Carmelo Anthony. But that didn’t stop him from coming to Game 5, wearing a “Stache Bros.” shirt with his and Steven Adams’ likeness on it. He had follow-up plans on Thursday to meet with the mayor of Oklahoma City, and talked about his basketball camp.

Yes, Kanter has nothing but love for the Oklahoma City Thunder. For the Utah Jazz — the team that drafted him … it’s more complicated. He admits the strain of his exit, when he requested to be traded, makes it tough to have that kind of relationship. But he still tries to keep in touch with old teammates.

“I actually talk to a couple of them,” he said. “I talk to Rudy [Gobert], I talk to Alec Burks. I still talk to [Derrick] Favors and stuff. But I think how I left there was pretty rough. It’s a little weird and awkward now to talk to some of the guys. But now, I got no hard feelings. I’m cool with them.”

That being said, Kanter clearly had a rooting interest: “I’m not cheering for Utah, though.”

The Turkish big man is coming off one of his best statistical seasons, averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds per game for the Knicks, who did not make the playoffs. When he isn’t visiting Oklahoma, he’s living in midtown Manhattan (his political opinions have also made going to his home country an unlikely offseason option).

As for cheering for the team that traded him? Kanter said he’s happy in New York, and even more importantly, he’s still close friends with his former Thunder teammates. Adams jokingly texted him that he expected Kanter to come to Games 1 and 2 as well.

“In the end, this is more important than basketball — coming here, supporting your ex-teammates,” he said. “No hard feelings or nothing.”

Weathering the runs

A big reason for the Jazz’s success in this series has been their ability to weather every surge the Thunder have thrown at them.

In Game 2, OKC scored 19 consecutive points on the Jazz, yet the Jazz came back to win. In Game 3, the Thunder raced to a 45-33 advantage. In Game 4, OKC forged a 30-24 first quarter lead.

In every instance, the Jazz were able to rally, which has been a significant factor.

“I think it’s big that we have tried not to look at the scoreboard, and played the game,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “It’s not like we aren’t caring about the score. But we’ve been able to just play the game, and it’s helped.”

Helping out

Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio is one of 10 finalists for the NBA Cares Community Assist Award, for his work this season in regard to cancer research.

Rubio has worked to raise money for lung cancer research in honor of his mother, who died of cancer in 2016. Rubio has donated to multiple charitable causes, including 5 For The Fight and the Huntsman Cancer Institute, this season.

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