|Paul Millsap, PF
34 MIN | 4-15 FG | 2-2 FT | 9 REB | 4 AST | 10 PTS | -9
The two things you can almost always count on from Millsap are efficient shooting and good decision-making. Tonight, he had neither. It’s pitiable that on his birthday, Millsap may have played his worst game of the season. Still, he avoids an “F” for his rebounding, which was solid.
|Gordon Hayward, SG
33 MIN | 6-10 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 4 AST | 13 PTS | -6
Hayward was frequently the only Jazz player attacking the basket. It reaped nice rewards, and he shot a high percentage from the floor. Also, his defense on Durant was solid. Most of all, you have to appreciate that Gordon is almost always bringing energy to an occasionally lifeless backcourt.
|Al Jefferson, C
34 MIN | 9-18 FG | 2-3 FT | 8 REB | 4 AST | 20 PTS | -9
There’s not really anything bad to say about Jefferson’s performance tonight. He provided consistent scoring and had a few nice passes. By the second half, he did look tired. We’re not seeing the same defensive tenacity from our bigs–especially Jefferson–that had so pleasantly surprised us during the beginning of the season. Hopefully this is only a slump and not a regression to the mean.
|Raja Bell, SG
30 MIN | 4-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 13 PTS | -7
He carried the offense in the first quarter with three threes and finished with a quality shooting night. Raja is the Jazz’s only three-point threat at this point, but he’s carrying that burden well.
|Devin Harris, PG
28 MIN | 5-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 0 REB | 7 AST | 11 PTS | -6
Devin Harris’s recent defensive woes have had a disastrous impact on the team’s overall defense. In the past three games, Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, and Jeremy Lin (Linsanity!) have had fantastic scoring games against Harris’s defense. His assists were up this game, but his poor perimeter defense negates much of his offensive production. There may be a lot of reasons for the disparity in free throw attempts (32 for the Thunder and just 13 for the Jazz), but one of them has to be Harris’s swinging door defense.
|Earl Watson, PG
20 MIN | 0-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 6 AST | 0 PTS | -8
Earl Watson seems to inherently understand just which plays he can make to get the crowd involved. Earl Watson has to be the king of momentum plays. His alley-oops to C.J. were only worth four points, but baskets like that energize the crowd and his teammates. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of that in the second half.
|C.J. Miles, SF
19 MIN | 4-9 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS | -7
When C.J. Miles is angrily flying to the rim, he fills an important role on this team, and it’s easier to forgive some of his more questionable shot choices. C.J. has always had elite athleticism, so it was refreshing to see him take off for alley-oop after alley-oop from Earl Watson.
|Derrick Favors, FC
14 MIN | 3-6 FG | 0-2 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS | -5
This biggest complaint here was Favors’ lack of energy on the boards. For a player of Favors’ athleticism and length, it’s almost inconceivable that he could finish a game with no rebounds. Still, he’s developing a powerful post game and a soft touch. Here’s to hoping some of Kanter’s enthusiasm for rebounding will rub off on him.
|Enes Kanter, F
14 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 4 PTS | -5
The love affair continues. There were times, usually when Collison was guarding him, that Kanter looked truly dominant. He still looks uncomfortable with the ball, and he brings the ball down again on put backs when he should keep it up, but his progress is consistent. It’s hard to see a scenario in which Kanter isn’t averaging a double-double within three years (which is amazing; he’s only 19).
Archives For Oklahoma City Thunder
Well. That didn’t go so well. I guess after five games you just get used to your team wining. Unfortunately for the Jazz, the Thunder came in with a hefty chip on their shoulder. Apparently they didn’t appreciate being embarrassed on their home floor a few weeks ago, and they stormed into Salt Lake to return the favor. I sat on my couch for about 20 minutes after the game wondering what went wrong… I’m certainly not one to panic, especially after a well fought loss to a good Western Conference team, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t disappointed. Here are some of my morning-after thoughts:
- I love Kevin Durant. He seems like a good person, and he’s got the silkiest shot, but when the Jazz play him all I can think is that “this must be what it was like for opposing fans to watch John Stockton.” He just plays so… well, so dirty. He was drawing players into the backcourt at full speed, only to cut back & slam into them (CJ), he was baiting refs into ugly calls, he throws elbows, and he actually threw a leg out to trip another player (AK). It was borderline unwatchable. To an OKC fan, these are all veteran moves, but to an opposing fan (like me) it just comes across as dirty.
- The Jazz’ victory against the Bobcats was largely attributable to Charlotte’s horrible free throw shooting (17-24). Conversely, this game against the Thunder was lost (for the Jazz) at the free throw line. You’re not going to beat a good Thunder team by putting them at the line for 34 freebies… especially when OKC hits 33 of those 34 shots.
- I’m really not one to complain about refs. I firmly believe that if you lose consistently as a result of the refs, then you don’t deserves the wins. Good teams win in spite of the refs. That being said, the refs didn’t do the Jazz any favors last night. The Jazz played well in the first half, but they let the Thunder overtake them in the second, and between the inability of the Jazz to execute their offense, make key stops, or get any reasonable calls, they could never get over the hump.
- Playing in the Western Conference is insanely brutal. Spurs, OKC, Lakers, Portland, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, New Orleans, Golden State… even the Clippers are tough. There are no nights off. It’s awesome from a fan perspective, but it’s brutal out there for the players. The team can’t overlook ANYONE.
- The Jazz missed Raja on defense. The rotations looked painfully slow at times, which gave the Thunder a lot of open looks at the perimeter. People recognize him as a defensive stopper, but his mere presence on the floor tightens up the entire ship. I know there’s been some complaints about his offensive production thus far, but I think most fans collectively underestimate how important his presence is on the defensive side of things.
- CJ is killing me. One game he’s a rainmaker, and the next he’s airballing 3′s. In the OKC game, he was dropping fade-away teardrops and putting up huge 19 footers, all while making heady vet moves. He’s an essential part of the second unit’s success. The team largely lives and dies by how CJ plays, and that’s terrifying given his volatility
- Ibaka was amazing tonight, and the Jazz didn’t have the defensive presence to handle him (I can’t believe I just wrote that). The team paid dearly for their lazy D, and it came in the form of Ibaka.
- Offensive production was weak from some of the key Jazz scoring options. Jefferson only hit a measly 5-14. The team can’t expect to beat good teams when their power pieces aren’t scoring.
- Earl Watson looked really, really good. I was excited to see how aggressive he was on offense, and how well he distributed the ball. I’m a Ronnie Price fan. I love his athleticism and heart, but I LOVE having a backup PG that I can trust. I’m starting to feel that way about Watson.
- During the Eastern Conference road trip, the Jazz played dangerously well down the stretch… so what was that last possession all about? Deron dribbled around mindlessly, hucked it to AK, who tossed up a crappy behind the head layup… I just sat in shock and confusion. Why such a stupid play to end it? Especially when they could have gotten a quick shot off and gotten the ball back one more time?
- OKC shot 71.4% in the third quarter. Yep. That stat happened.
- During the preseason I estimated that the Jazz would not be firing on all cylinders until mid December. I’m sticking with that, and during these early losses I have to remind myself NOT to get impatient. The Jazz will be fine… they’re still finding themselves and they’ve shown flashes of who they will become. The upside of this team is tremendous. I don’t remember the last time I felt like that.
- Bottom line? This game was a major let down. The team went on a massive Eastern Conference road trip where they played two back to backs and four great teams. They had four emotional wins, Deron was named Western Conference Player of the Week, and they came home on a mental high. Unfortunately, those types of trips can be dangerous, and create a false sense of security. Anytime a team is on that kind of high, it seems to overlook important aspects of the next game (in this case, defense). Tough loss, but it really just wasn’t the Jazz’ night.
1. The Lakers are still the Lakers. Before the season started, I questioned Kobe’s ability to perform with a weak knee and a bum finger. I mean, he’s human (allegedly), and has to break down at some point… right? Well, if it is right it looks like the breakdown won’t be coming this season.
2. The new instant replay rules are arduous. Am I the only one that feels like we’re watching replays at every possible break this season? I want to get the right call, just like everyone else, but I could do without the clear-path instant replay, the who-fouled-who instant replay, and the out-of-bounds-during-any-part-of-the-first-half-replay. Can’t we just let the refs call the game how they see it, and use these replays only during the last 2 minutes of the game (and -maybe- half)? Can’t we just agree that if you lose a game SOLELY because you didn’t get an out of bounds call in the first quarter then you don’t deserve that win?
3. Blake Griffin is crazy good. And crazy, crazy. The guy has no regard for his body, which should excite and terrify all Clippers fans. Excite because he can electrify the entire stadium with one monster dunk. Terrify because on nearly every one of those monster dunk he seems to come down all skiwampis. Every time Griffin comes down in a tweak like that, the fans in the Staples Center collectively gasp (all 66 of them). It’s delicious fear, and it’s a great show.
4. The preseason is meaningless. The Jazz preseason record = 8-0. The Jazz regular season record = 1-2.
5. The Thunder aren’t as good as the media wanted us to think. Yes they beat the Bulls and Pistons, but then the Jazz came to town and exposed how thin the Thunder’s bench was and how helpless they are when Durant is substantially defended. While there’s no doubt that the Thunder will get better, it’s clear that the path to the finals won’t be as simple as some talking heads wanted us to believe.
6. The Jazz aren’t as far along as I’d hoped. After an 8-0 preseason, the Jazz got our hopes sky high… and then got smoked in their opening game. Then they got smoked in their home opener. All of Utah fandome was hammering the panic button. Things looked bleak. Then OKC happened and we all realized that the Jazz aren’t so bad, that maybe we overreacted, and that they are actually pretty good. At least when the offense is flowing. Unfortunately, they just aren’t all that fluid yet. The first two games highlighted the importance of the team’s outside shooting, and what happens when those shots don’t fall. Opposing defenses triple team the Jazz’ low post players, the Jazz miss open shots on the perimeter, and it disables the entire offense. From the inside out, the Jazz need to have confidence in their perimeter scoring.
7. I’d rather watch a player whine to a ref than watch 27 technical free throws per game. Anyone that has watched the NBA this week has learned that the league is cracking down on whining players that complain and pester refs. As a player, you can’t raise hands after a call, make a sad face, or blink your eyes too quickly without the threat of a quick T. In theory less whining is great, but in practice these new enforcements extend games, bore viewers, and force fans to watch teams meander up and down the court shooting technical free throws. It’s misery. The league is attempting to bring an NFL-like professionalism to NBA referee calls, but instead they’ve created this perception of unequal power tilted in favor of the referees. I’m hoping that the rule eventually finds an equilibrium where we do see less whining coupled with more judicious whistle blowing from the refs, but for now it’s just annoying.
8. The West is still STRONG. The Lakers are undefeated, the Mavs have Dirk, OKC is an offensive juggernaut, the Blazers are thrilling in transition, the Spurs have turned back the clock, the Suns can dump 3′s on you by the bushel, the Jazz’ offense is undefendable (when rolling), and as long as the Nuggets have Carmelo they are contenders. Greeeeeeaaaaat. There aren’t any night’s off while playing in the Western Conference.
9. John Wall was the right number 1 pick. Did you see his home opener against Evan Turner and the 76ers? It was ridiculous. Yes he had 9 turnovers, but he also was one steal away from a triple double in his THIRD NBA GAME EVER (29/13/9). Um… yeah. He’s good. Finally, Washington has a sports team to get excited about.
10. Maybe the Jazz should have matched Wesley Matthews’ offer? Nah…
After opening the season with lackadaisical play and two frustrating losses, the Jazz put their world back in order with an impressive 120-99 win in Oklahoma City against Kevin Durant and the Thunder.
It’s clear that as Deron Williams goes, so go the Jazz. Williams got the Jazz off to a quick start and showed the kind of leadership that fans and media called for after his public spat with Gordon Hayward last week. Tonight Deron seemed determined to put every teammate in a position to succeed. Andrei Kirilenko hit shots early, CJ Miles got going, Al Jefferson had his first double-double, and Paul Millsap was an absolute beast. Millsap poured in 30 points to go along with 16 rebounds and brought the kind of energy and intensity that the team was missing in the first two games.
It’s amazing what making shots will do. On a night the Jazz shot 53% from the field and 63% from 3-point land, the entire team seemed energized by the strong play on the defensive side. Kirilenko matched up with Kevin Durant and seemed to keep him off balance most of the game. Durant is still a beast, however, and seemed to knock down a long three or get loose for a short jumper every time Kirilenko relaxed. It speaks to Durant’s virtuosity that scoring 28 points feels like an off night.
The Deron Williams / Russell Westbrook matchup was fun to watch as well. Deron had 16 points and 15 assists while Westbrook scored 22 but passed out just 5 assists. Williams was able to negate some of Westbrook’s speed by staying in front and getting strong team help.
The Thunder are fun to watch and will win a lot of games, but they don’t yet elicit a fear factor. No one is scared to play the Thunder. They need one more dose of nasty before they take it to the next level. Cole Aldrich does reasonable Ostertag-if-he-were-in-shape performance and had a nice moment with a put-back dunk. Serge Ibaka and Nenad Krstic were simply pounded by Millsap and Jefferson.
The inevitable Thunder rally in the third quarter showed some heart from the home team, but the Jazz absorbed the blow and responded with strong play down the stretch. It was a very complete game from everyone and will give the Jazz a lot of good things to build on before hosting the Toronto Raptors at home on Wednesday.
In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.
This will mark the third season in Oklahoma for the team formerly known as Prince. Wait. Formerly known as the Seattle Sonics. (I know. Especially with Sonics and Kevin Durant uber-fan Paul Brogan unleashing YouTube classics like this, I was sad to see them bolt the Great Northwest, too.) Two years ago, the Thunder won 23 games. Last year they won 50. So, is the 2010-2011 version of the Oklahoma City Thunder another slick piece of marketing propaganda from David Stern and company at the league PR office? Or is this upstart team filled with a roster of ten players age 24 or younger about to assert themselves as a perennial Western Conference power? What should you believe?
Believe that the darling of the 2010 playoffs who took the Lakers to six tough games in the first round is not a flash in the pan. Believe that if they can avoid the sophomore slump, their 27-game turnaround from the previous season will grow this season. Believe that last year’s league scoring champion and all-around phenom, Kevin Durant, could be named the MVP of the league this spring. Believe that whatever happens, Durant will lead his Young Guns out of the first round at least, if not further, in the 2011 playoffs. Believe this: OKC is for real. Let’s talk about why.
Allow me to introduce OKC’s starting five: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeff Green, and Nenad Krstic. Key names coming off the bench include: Nick Collison, James Harden, Daequan Cook, Serge Ibaka, and Eric Maynor. What’s the quick takeaway for you here? A strong, young starting five and a reserve unit that is among the deepest in the league.
Kevin Durant vs. The World
Durant’s soft-spoken demeanor betrays his on-court leadership. He was the unequivocal leader of Team USA’s gold medal run this summer at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey. Lest you forget, OKC point guard and rising NBA star Russell Westbrook was at his side for the entire run, which only enhances the growing on-court chemistry for the pair this season. (More on Westbrook in a moment.) Durant’s game is deceptively effortless, and NBA writer Scoop Jackson has compared his play to that of George “Iceman” Gervin, who made his every move look as easy as water rolling downhill. The best Utah can hope for is to stifle Durant when he penetrates the lane, force him to kick the ball out a little more than he normally would, and hope the post game stat sheet shows 22 points instead of 32.
D-Will vs. Russell Westbrook
Why should you pay attention to Russell Westbrook? Westbrook has quietly become one of the best point guards in the Western Conference. For a guy many expected to be nothing more than a role player, this is quite an accomplishment. He will have his hands full with D-Will, who is bigger, but Westbrook will be scrappy to be sure.
Paul Millsap vs. Jeff Green
This may be the matchup to watch. Jeff Green is the Thunder’s rebounding machine, and if he can make strides in that area this year, he will be the difference maker for many OKC wins. Remember, the Thunder ultimately lost game 6 against the Lakers on a missed defensive rebound that Pau Gasol scooped into the hoop after Kobe’s missed baseline jumper. Rebounding will, consequently, be a continuing mantra for the Thunder and Green is the heart of that effort. He and Millsap will be nicely matched, as both are underrated scorers as well.
Thabo Sefolosha/James Harden vs. Raja Bell/C.J. Miles
Thabo will start against Raja. Both are able scorers and tough defenders. But watch James Harden off the bench, the former 3rd overall pick whose game is really improving after his rookie year last season, in which he scored almost 10 points a game in 22 minutes a night. Both of those numbers will rise as his role grows on this team.
High Notes | Low Notes
It would be a mistake to believe this team’s success is built on their scoring prowess. It’s a sleight-of-hand. This is a crew of rapscallion defenders of the highest order. These guys are too young to know how to get away with sloppy D. They are alive, and electric, and Head Coach Scotty Brooks has them convinced that the road to a championship is paved with iron-clad defense.
One potential low note is the psychological effect of becoming a target of everyone in the league for having become the darling of the NBA so quickly. Could this newfound bullseye on their back create enough of a shift in the environment to knock them off their 50 win pace of last season? While it’s possible, I doubt it. Not with Brooks’ coaching and the roster’s up and down hunger for winning after tasting it in the series against Los Angeles.
The Jazz went 3-1 vs. the Thunder during their 23 win 2008-2009 season, their first in Oklahoma City. Last year, the Jazz were 1-2 against OKC. This is the sum of the short rivalry between these teams, notwithstanding the days in Seattle, which we’ve buried with a reservoir of tears. RIP Jazz Killer Eddie Johnson, Gary Payton, Shawn “Johnny Appleseed” Kemp, and company.
For his efforts leading the Thunder turnaround, Scott Brooks was named NBA Coach of the Year. His team buys into his coaching philosophy, which Jazz fans can appreciate. He’s short. He played 10 years in the NBA. He won a championship with the 1994 Houston Rockets. His players like him. That’s all I’ve got here, folks.
The OKC franchise has built this team largely through the draft, which gives them a sense of pride at home-growing this group of youngsters. Clay Bennett and his ownership group had cap space to chase a big dollar free agent, but these guys want to do this on their own terms, and who can blame them, with the young talent they’ve acquired? In the most unnoticed move of the summer, Durant signed a 5 year max contract extension with a nonchalant whisper through Twitter, in stark contrast to LeBron’s “Decision”. In fact, Durant’s favorite motto: “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” You get the sense from the way he goes about his business that he believes it. It makes it easy to root for him and this team.
The Jazz matchups with OKC will be among the most kinetic games of the season. For you basketball purists, this matchup will showcase the orchestral beauty of this game–offensively and defensively–in full regale. In short, these games will be pretty to watch. Utah catches OKC at its freshest as two of the team’s first 11 games are against the Thunder. The next two games come in early February and late March. The latter will be a nice test of how the Jazz can handle a stifling defense and manic offensive movement down the stretch.
If I were the Jazz, I’d want to catch these guys sooner than later in the playoffs too, before the OKC kids get in over their heads and not realizing it, play out of their heads to the dismay of whoever stands in their way. Don’t give them more credit than they’ve earned quite yet, but they stand toe to toe with the Jazz lineup in the “who’s second best in the west behind LA” category. To the victor go the spoils.