Thunder at Utah Jazz Game Recap – Oct. 21, 2017

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SALT LAKE CITY – The Thunder ripped off the first six points of the game, on three mid-range jumpers from Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. After that, scoring was an absolute chore.

The Thunder fell 96-87 to the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, due to an anemic shooting night and an inability to convert on some good looks. There was a deeper level that Head Coach Billy Donovan wants to address with his team after the loss – being more disciplined to attack the paint with force and authority. Too many times on Saturday, the Thunder got inside the three-point line but didn’t attack the rim, instead trying to force passes to teammates.

“They’re just going to back up and try to protect the rim. That’s what they do,” Donovan explained. “We had some opportunities to get downhill, especially in the first half, we tried to late interior pass. It would have been better going up and trying to finish and give ourselves a chance to offensive rebound.”

“We have to attack more into the paint and create from there. We were kind of settling for neutral dribbles and then kick,” center Steven Adams added. “It was everyone. For me, I didn’t roll hard enough, which didn’t create for dudes in the back. We’ll watch film. We’ll fix it.”

Those were all unselfish plays by the Thunder, simply an attempt to get one another involved early in the season and make sure everyone is feeling in rhythm. Adams emphasized the need for discipline in those situations, and the need to be the aggressors physically. The Jazz pushed the Thunder off their spots, derailed their cuts and extended the catches further out away from the rim. All of those little things factored into some tough offensive possessions.

Still, despite the rough offense early that put the Thunder down 38-19 late in the second quarter, Donovan’s club managed to stay in the game mentally until it was too late for a comeback. To end the first half, Paul George ignited a 15-6 run behind a driving two-handed dunk and a three-pointer, part of his 22-point, five-rebound, two-assist, five-steal night.

The Thunder cut Utah’s lead to just six immediately after halftime, but Utah slugged back, rebuilding a 20-point lead by late in the third quarter. Carmelo Anthony, who scored 26 points on the night, gave the Thunder some life with back-to-back buckets to end the period, then Raymond Felton sparked a 12-2 Thunder burst to start the final frame. After cutting the Jazz lead to seven, however, the Thunder never got any closer.

“In that fourth quarter we fought our way back a little bit but we had some bad possessions and it came back and bit us a little bit,” Donovan explained. “They responded. Give them credit, they answered the runs when they needed to.”

The Jazz knocked down 49.4 percent of their shots on the night, and despite the Thunder’s defensive disruption that forced 19 turnovers, Utah managed to dominate the paint. For the game the Thunder shot just 41.0 percent, 11-for-33 on three-pointers and 12-of-19 from the free throw line while being out-rebounded by four and turning it over 17 times compared to their 15 assists.

Westbrook was very clearly intent on getting his teammates good looks on drive and dish opportunities, but like some of his compatriots, he just missed out on converting some shots that normally go down. In 36 minutes, Westbrook had six points, 13 rebounds, nine assists and two steals, but was picking his spots to try and learn more about his new teammates and how it can all flow. That will be a season-long process.

“He’s always going to play aggressively,” Donovan said of Westbrook. “He’s always going to be in attack mode but I also think he’s trying to incorporate those guys and get those guys to feel comfortable and put those guys in good positions where they can be successful and find guys. The timing and the rhythm and those things will come the more and more we play together.”

The Thunder gets another shot at it on Sunday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena as the Minnesota Timberwolves come into town to help the Thunder complete a Northwest Division road-home back-to-back, and a stretch of three games in four nights to start the season.

Thunder Highlights

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By the Numbers

13 – Rebounds for Russell Westbrook, to go along with nine assists and six points

14 – Steals for the Thunder on the night, part of 19 Jazz turnovers that led to 24 Thunder points

49.4 – Shooting percentage for the Jazz on the night, thanks to a 40-20 advantage in points in the paint

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The Last Word

“We got off to a really good start offensively but from there we had a really hard time… When you have a new team coming together, it’s different for everybody… They’re really working together to figure all those things and understand all those things.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan

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