Despite a slow start, the Thunder absolutely laid waste to the Utah Jazz on Sunday in Oklahoma City for the team’s first truly dominating win of the season in the team’s first-ever regular season home game without Russell Westbrook.
The Thunder announced before the game that Westbrook would take the night off, giving him five consecutive days of relative rest as he navigates the first few weeks of his post-surgery season. But OKC did just fine against the lowly Jazz without its firebrand point guard, putting away an inferior team in emphatic fashion for the first time this season.
Both teams played some pretty brutal basketball to start the game, as the Thunder and Jazz combined to shoot 4-of-22 to start the game by putting up brick after brick. But Oklahoma City eventually got back on track, and Utah never got going until it was far too late and the likes of Ryan Gomes and Andre Roberson were getting extended run for the Thunder.
Reggie Jackson played admirably in Westbrook’s absence, as few now would doubt that he can. He kept Jazz rookie Trey Burke, making his first career pro start, from getting into the lane and establishing a rhythm, and mixed in his usual smooth drives and sharp passing to finish with seven assists against only two turnovers.
The story of the game for Oklahoma City was the continued All-Star-level play from Serge Ibaka, who wrapped up a double-double with a couple of minutes remaining in the third quarter. It was Ibaka’s fifth double-double in 12 games this year (missing four more by a combined four points and two rebounds), the third in his last five games.
Ibaka’s work on the boards in particular has been impressive in recent games, and his blossoming and smoother offensive game comes to little surprise to anyone who has been watching for the last few seasons and seeing flashes of it upon occasion. Ibaka also did good work against the Jazz’s beefy, if inexperienced, front line, collecting three blocks and helping to hold Utah’s three most important post players to 8-of-18 shooting.
There’s not much to take away from a beat down of the worst team in the league, although it’s a notable improvement from the three-point win Oklahoma City collected in Salt Lake City to start the season. But it’s nice to see the Thunder finally get the kind of win that saw them build up the kind of lead (30+ points for much of the second half) that allows them to rest Kevin Durant for the entire fourth quarter, especially without Westbrook.
- OKC didn’t get its first basket until the 9:21 mark of the first quarter, a KD 3-pointer. The second didn’t come for another full 2 1/2 minutes later when Durant got a runner. It’s nice to be playing against the Jazz when that happens.
- The Jazz scored only 13 points in the first and third quarters, which makes it hard to be competitive. That helped each Thunder starter put up a +/- of at least +20 (including Ibaka’s game-high +31).
- There were a few more flashes that indicate that a good partnership could be in the works between Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams. They seem to be developing a nice working relationship, which can and should bode well for the pick-and-roll offense for the second unit this season.
- Adams continues to impress with a soft touch, good footwork and nice vision. One of Kendrick Perkins’ only discernible offensive skills has been passing, and Adams appears to have the potential to be an even better passer than Perk. He may be already, but it’s hard to tell so early in his career. The Big Funaki is good at spotting the open man when someone is double-teamed and continually shows the ability to make the easy pass, which is no small thing in a 7-footer.
- There was some winter weather in Oklahoma City that affected the turnout, but it was still pretty solid under the circumstances. There have been some winter weather games in previous seasons with oceans of empty seats.
- So this is one of those random thoughts that creeps into your head during a blowout. Does anyone else ever get occasionally distracted by the arena’s flash system for photographers? Major arenas usually let at least one photographer plug into a system that generates a flash when the photographer takes a picture instead of the photographer using his or her own flash. You can see the flashes in person and on TV, but they’re so omnipresent and fast that you usually don’t notice them. But when you do notice, it’s hard to go back to not seeing them, and it gets distracting. It’s like when you think about blinking, and then you notice every blink and it takes a while before you forget about it and it goes back to being something that just happens without you paying attention. (My apologies to anyone who is now distracted by their own blinking like I am.)
- Former Thunder preseason camp invitee Diante Garrett didn’t get a shot off at the end of the first half despite having plenty of time to do so. He just dumped it off to a teammate as time expired. Kind of summed up the Jazz’s season so far.
- Perk actually had a nice spin move for a fadeaway jumper — yes, a fadeaway — that he made in the 3rd quarter. That might not happen again until after Valentine’s Day or so.
- The Jazz only had 43 points Jazz at the end of the third quarter. Denver had 39 points after ONE quarter two games ago.
- Lamb continued to show some very positive signs when he decided to be aggressive, finding space to drive into the lane and use some pretty floaters with some good effectiveness. It’s easy to envision him continuing to develop into a true weapon off the bench when he’s focused.
Next up: San Antonio on Wednesday at home.