The Oklahoma City Thunder never trailed and wasted no time finding their groove in their official first game of the NBA’s restart to the season. They led by as many as 29 and beat the Utah Jazz 110-94.
Oklahoma City now has won four straight games and have not lost a game since March 3. Given, the NBA took a four-month hiatus due to COVID-19.
“Overall, I thought our guys played pretty well,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. ”
Utah and Oklahoma City were the two teams under the microscope when the NBA chose to suspend the season. When Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, it also brought the sports world to an immediate halt. It was only fitting Oklahoma City and Utah would be the restart game for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City made the wait worth it.
The Thunder used a 10-0 run early in the first quarter to separate themselves from Utah early using big time defense from Steven Adams and Lu Dort. Danilo Gallinari capped off the run with a three to put the Thunder up double digits.
“We played three scrimmage games and they were sort of up and down,” Chris Paul said. “To see how we came out and responded is good.”
Steven Adams made a turnaround hook shot with 1:08 to go in the first half to give Oklahoma City their first 20-point lead of the game.
Oklahoma City led 66-52 at the break.
Utah really never made a push shorter than 18 points in time that mattered. After Utah cut it down to 18 in the middle of the fourth, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander nailed a three to put the Thunder back up 21 with 5:44 remaining in the game.
Oklahoma City hit seven threes in the first half, while holding the Jazz to only three of their own. It was a large reason why Oklahoma City was able to pull out to such a large lead in the first half.
The two teams knelt during the national anthem, showing solidarity to Black Lives Matters. Every and coach on the Thunder took a knee despite threats from Oklahoma politicians to issue some tax penalties on the franchise for kneeling during them anthem.
“We talked about that the last few days,” Donovan said. “We want to support our players. We see the social injustice that takes place in a lot of guy’s lives. We just want to be behind these guys by constantly fighting for equality all the way around.”
“It was special, especially to do it as a team,” Chris Paul said. “To do it on a united front, man, it was special.”
There is no real threat to the tax penalties as it appears to be only an empty threat.
Oklahoma City had seven players score at least nine points, led by Gilgeous-Alexander’s 19 points.
Paul had 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City has seven games remaining in their bubble restart. They will play the Denver Nuggets on Monday, Aug. 3 at 3 p.m.
“One game down, seven to go,” Paul said.
Keys to the Game
Steven Adams: A+
The Kiwi was dominating on both sides of the ball and provided a nice alternative in the passing game. He had nice dishes and almost had a pretty sweet no-look pass that Dort missed. Adams finished plus-15 on the day, which shows when he’s positive, the Thunder are more likely to win. He held Rudy Gobert to 10 points and only seven rebounds. He forced Gobert into four fouls and minus-14.
Defend the three: A+
Oklahoma City held the Jazz to 8-of-31 from (25.8 percent) from beyond the three-point line. That is what you want to do. It was really the first half that was big for Oklahoma City. Utah was only 3-of-15 in the first half from three. Oklahoma City has to keep that defense up.
Play Loose: A+
It would be easy to come into this game and play tight. It is a big game and Utah is always a bit of a rivalry game. However, the Thunder battled tough and really put it to Utah early and often. This team looked like they did back in March and that is a dangerous thing for the NBA.