By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
What’s the old saying? Offense wins games but defense wins championships? Well there was just a game on the line at The Peake Thursday night, not a championship, so it was the Thunder’s second ranked scoring offense that ended up getting the better of the Jazz’ second ranked scoring defense.
Utah was giving up just 96.4 points a game but the Thunder hit them for 113 which was a number the Jazz couldn’t come close to, managing just 91, and giving the Thunder their sixth straight win.
"I think over the last couple of weeks our guys have really worked hard defensively to try and get better and improve and maintain a level of consistency," said head coach Billy Donovan after the game. I thought they did a great job tonight, really from start to finish."
Four OKC starters and two bench players got into double figures and the Thunder turned Utah mistakes into points at an astonishing rate. The Jazz had 18 turnovers, 13 coming on Thunder steals, and the home team turned those giveaways into 32 points.
Everyone wearing Thunder whites got in on the fun, even Josh Huestis saw his first ever NBA action and nailed a 3-pointer.
"I was really happy for him," Donovan said with a smile. "He's really worked hard and he's a great kid."
Kevin Durant led a balanced scoring attack with 20 points, just the number he needed to extend his streak to 57 straight games with at least 20 points. He came close to a triple-double by adding eight rebounds and nine assists. But he was happier the way the points were distributed to so many teammates.
"It was huge. It gave those guys some confidence moving forward and getting closer to playoff time."
Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak was snapped at three straight games because he didn’t play in the fourth quarter. The Thunder were up by 21 when the last 12 minutes started counting down and quickly expanded that to 29 and Donovan started emptying the bench. Westbrook finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and nine assists.
Center Steven Adams had a nice night on the pick and roll and with some putbacks scoring 14 points on 7-for-11 shooting while pulling down seven rebounds. Enes Kanter had trouble with the pick and roll at the other end of the floor and that also seemed to keep him out of sync on offense for a while. He missed his first five shots but got hot in the final quarter going 6-for-6. He finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Dion Waiters had his second straight nice night, scoring 17 points on 8-for-16 shooting.
Overall the Thunder shot 54.2 percent and they were 9-for-22 on threes (40.9 percent). Both teams struggled at the free throw line with OKC hitting just 63.6 percent (14-for-22) and the Jazz not doing much better at 69.6 percent (16-for-23).
Utah had won five of the last six games but the Jazz came in playing on the second night of a back-to-back after using a lot of juice to beat the Rockets in Houston on Wednesday night.
“This is a tough game no matter what,” said Jazz coach Quinn Snyder. “We were a little depleted and then fatigued. It’s tough to beat this team when you’re fresh.”
Now the Thunder can focus in on the San Antonio Spurs who come in for a showdown game on Saturday night. The Spurs lost to the Thunder in OKC way back on Opening Night and the Thunder lost to the Spurs in the Alamo City earlier this month.
The Thunder of course can’t catch San Antonio for second place in the Western Conference but another win against the Spurs will add to a growing confidence the Thunder have as they roll toward the playoffs.
"We need everybody playing at the top of their game and getting better for us towards the end of the season," Durant pointed out.
So far so good.
The six game winning streak points to how well this team is playing right now but the Thunder finish with a brutal schedule. Seven of their last nine games are on the road and all but a couple of those opponents are either fighting for a playoff spot or for a better playoff spot.
"We are not all the way there," cautioned Donovan, "we can continue to get better but I thought today was another step toward becoming more consistent."