SALT LAKE CITY — There’s a first time for everything, even when all logic says it just can’t happen.
That’s pretty much the story of the Utah Jazz’s 109-94 victory over Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
Previously, the Thunder were a perfect 18-0 this season when shooting better than 50 percent from the field. Amazingly, they were 43-0 in that statistic dating back to the 2010-11 season.
Tuesday night against the Jazz inside EnergySolutions Arena, OKC – with it’s stars Kevin Durant (33 points) and Russell Westbrook (22) – sizzled for 56 percent from the field. And yet … And yet the Jazz came away with a 15-point win that actually was more decisive than that score indicates.
So, what’s the secret?
“I can’t tell you the secret,” Jazz reserve point guard Earl Watson said. “You can’t give out secrets.”
All joking aside, Watson offered his honest opinion.
“I just think we played hard,” he said. “I think we played with amazing intensity and extreme focus.”
With two games remaining before the All-Star break, the Jazz came into the game on a two-game losing streak, knowing they’d have to fly to Minnesota to play the Timberwolves tonight before getting that much-needed rest and relaxation.
On the other hand, the Thunder came in with lightning in a bottle, having won four in a row, each by at least 21 points.
And yet …
Still without key players Mo Williams and Gordon Hayward, Utah (29-24) brought a little more intensity to the party and built a 21-point lead before the Thunder (39-13) waved the white flag midway through the fourth quarter.
Center Al Jefferson scored 23 points and teammate Paul Millsap added 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Utah’s bench outscored OKC’s 49-25 and as a team and the Jazz outrebounded the Thunder 38-26, including 16-7 on the offensive glass.
That all added up to a decisive 18-4 advantage in second-chance points.
Thanks to hustle, bravado and even a little blood, Utah overcame OKC’s hot shooting and managed to hand the Thunder their first loss when shooting 50 percent or better in more than 40 games.
“That’s amazing to me, to shoot 50-something percent and lose by double figures,” Jefferson said. “That’s still amazing. The key is, when you’re playing against a great team like that you can’t give too many offensive rebounds and all that other stuff. When they do miss, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Jefferson, who got a bloody nose in the first quarter, said the Jazz didn’t want to get “punked” on their own floor. And so when the Thunder got physical, they soon got as good as they gave.
OKC’s Kendrick Perkins was called for a flagrant foul in the first half and Durant picked up the first flagrant of his career when he knocked Utah’s Alec Burks to the floor in the fourth quarter.
A little dustup occurred moments later when scrappy Jazzman DeMarre Carroll stepped in to tell Durant to take it easy.
“I just told him, ‘We ain’t playing dirty out here, if we’re gonna play dirty we’ll play dirty in the park,’” Carroll said. “Burks, he’s young. He really ain’t gonna stand up for himself. I might not have all the money to give away (to pay the NBA fine for picking up a technical foul) but, hey, I’ve gotta take a stand for the young guys.”
Taking a stand is what the Jazz did most of the night, which seemed to be a far cry from how they were playing just a few days ago.
They’re still dealing with injuries and odd inconsistencies in their night-to-night play. But on Tuesday at least, they found away to do something that hadn’t happened in a long time.