Wednesday marked the opening night for the Oklahoma City Thunder in Salt Lake City. They opened up against a young Utah Jazz squad, that, simply put, couldn’t keep up with OKC’s superstar forward from Washington D.C.
Kevin Durant scored 42 points Wednesday and led the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 101-98 victory to start the season out on the right foot. Durant, the three-time scoring title recipient, has been the highest opening scorer in all of the NBA. He is taking a completely new approach to a
lineup that begins the season exactly like it ended last season: without Russell Westbrook.
When Westbrook went out with the knee injury last postseason, it was obvious that Durant put a lot of pressure on himself and it really affected his play on the court. To start the 2013-2014 season, Westbrook is once again in the healing process and Durant is taking his immense role in stride.
Kevin Durant produced the most in the all-important 4th quarter as he dropped in 15 of his 42, his highest scoring quarter of the night. His last two points of the night were free-throws that stretched the Thunder lead from one to three with just over 6 seconds on the clock. He spent a majority of the game at the line, where he shot 22-of-24. His career highs in makes and attempts from the free throw line are 24 and 26, respectively.
As good as Durant performed, this tight of a game definitely comes as a surprise as the Utah Jazz are definitely in a rebuilding phase. Gordon Hayward had a chance to tie the game as he sprinted up the right side of the floor and launched a long 3-point shot over Durant. Hayward’s shot was on line but off the front of the rim and Thunder took a breath of relief for their escape performance on the road.
The Thunder won the battle of the boards with a narrow edge of 45-44.
Utah put up a fight. They were once down as many as 15 in the game and closed the gap to as close to a one point margin in the second half but could never grasp the lead from the Thunder.
The offensive rebound totals for both teams were equal, but equality was not the story in the turnover category. The Thunder forced the Jazz into 22 turnovers while only committing 13. Turnovers almost always lead to easy points on the offensive end and the fast break battle also favored OKC, 25-14.
The game is won and lost from the line and the Jazz shot 67% while OKC shot just under 88%. The one place the Jazz hurt the Thunder was in the trenches as they scored 56 of their 98 points in the paint.
The next high scorers for the Thunder were Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson, both with 14. Jackson also contributed 5 steals.
Serge Ibaka had a near double-double with 8 points and 10 rebounds.
While the Thunder had a dominant performance from their superstar, the Jazz presented a team effort with balanced scoring. Alec Burks led the Jazz off the bench as a spark with 24 points and was one of six jazz players to score double figures on Wednesday. Derrick Favors recorded a near double-double with 15 points and 9 rebounds. Enes Kanter presented the only double-double of the night with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Great way to open the season for the Thunder.
Side Notes/ Comments:
-Jeremy Lamb saw a little over 17 minutes but only contributed 4 points. The Thunder will definitely need more of a contribution from him in the absence of Westbrook.
-In the absence of the Westbrook and THIS Kevin Durant, it is likely to say he will be leading the MVP race. Yes, even ahead of LeBron James.
-There was still little production under rim Wednesday from the Thunder bigs. Utah punished the Thunder under and at the rim. Ibaka struggled from the field but he will bounce back.
-With Durant starting the season off in this form, I think he should expect more double teams as teams will try to make the younger core and bigs of the Thunder make plays. Thabo has to continue to knock down shots.
-Russell Westbrook may return to the Thunder lineup in as soon as two weeks. He is going through a hell of a rehab.