SALT LAKE CITY — Offensive firepower isn’t the only thing new-look Oklahoma City has to offer. The Thunder are showing early signs of being equally capable of overwhelming opponents on the defensive end.
Oklahoma City made a big defensive statement in its season opener. The Thunder forced New York to commit 26 turnovers and turned them into 37 points en route to a 105-84 victory over the Knicks.
It should serve Oklahoma City well when the Thunder visit the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.
“By playing great defense, especially this early in the season where probably most teams are trying to find their way, it gives you at least a little bit of room where if you don’t have a great offensive night or are trying to figure it out offensively, you can really fall back to your defense,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan told reporters after the game.
Stifling defense helped Oklahoma City survive some sloppiness on offense. The Thunder turned the ball over 20 times. It didn’t have as big an impact as it could have had because they limited transition baskets on the other end. The Knicks scored just 10 total points off those Oklahoma City turnovers.
Once the Thunder shook off some of the cobwebs, they offered a glimpse of what their offense can do now that Paul George and Carmelo Anthony have teamed up with Russell Westbrook.
The trio combined for 71 points in their first regular-season game together. Westbrook tacked on 16 rebounds and 10 assists with his 21 points to earn his first triple-double of the season.
“We all have a unique skill set and it’s great that we can kind of come together and use our tools and elevate this team,” George said.
Tough defense remains a trademark for Utah while it works on replacing offensive production lost as a result of the departures of Gordon Hayward and George Hill in free agency.
The Jazz did well on that end in their 106-96 win over Denver on Wednesday. Six different players scored in double figures, led by Rudy Gobert with 18 points. Utah made a much more lasting mark on the defensive end. The Jazz used a 31-5 run to take control against the Nuggets and allowed a total of five field goals over the final 13 minutes.
Things didn’t go quite as smoothly for Utah against Minnesota on Friday night. The Jazz mounted a late rally again, with all five starters scoring in double figures, but came up short in a 100-97 loss to the Timberwolves. Derrick Favors, Gobert and Joe Johnson all had cracks at a tying basket in the final seconds, but couldn’t get the ball to drop.
Utah ultimately lost one of its top offensive weapons as well. Rodney Hood led Utah with 20 points, but he was carried off the floor by his teammates after suffering an apparent lower-leg injury during the fourth quarter.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder believes the offense will flow consistently, no matter who is on the floor, as long as Utah embraces tough defense and unselfish play on both ends.
“I think that the thing we’ve built over the last three years is a defensive identity,” Snyder said. “We want to continue to see that from this group every time we play. The other thing that we have emphasized, and I think we’ve lived it, is we have been an unselfish group. Those two things I think are constant.”
Oklahoma City won the series with Utah 3-1 last season. The Thunder won 97-95 on Jan. 23 in their most recent trip to Salt Lake City. Westbrook poured in 38 points to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists to lead the way.
Source: Fox Sports