With sophomores Lu Dort and Darius Bazley back for their second-straight game, the Oklahoma City Thunder found their rhythm, but ultimately fell short, slipping to the Utah Jazz 106-96. The Thunder’s losing streak stacked to seven upon Tuesday’s conclusion, now hoisting the sixth-best lottery odds with a 20-34 record. In garnering the victory, the Jazz created a 1.5 game cushion for the top record in the league, currently atop the NBA throne with a 41-14 record.
Lu Dort scored 15 points in Sunday’s loss versus the 76ers — he shattered this total in the first seven minutes of play. The sophomore pumped out 16 of the Thunder’s first 24 points off an uber-efficient 6-of-7 shooting, downing a quartet of top-of-the-key triples, topping it off with a mid-range fade over Roby Gobert. Dort’s commanding presence paired with a red-hot Thunder defense rewarded the roster their first double-digit lead since March 31 ( 5 games), just seven minutes inside tip. At their peak, Oklahoma City led as large as 17, berating Utah with a 22-6 run before sufficing eight-straight Jazz points to enter the second up 31-22. At the period’s close, Lu Dort hoisted a single-quarter career-high of 18 points (7-of-10 FG) while deflecting a Jazz pass and invading Utah’s offense for a charge.
The Thunder and Jazz played tug-of-war for the opening stages of the second, seeing Oklahoma City’s grip slowly slip away to single-digits at the midway point, fathering their advantage at the 5 minute, 20-second mark off a pull-up Donovan Mitchell three. By no coincidence, Lu Dort’s reinstatement to the lineup effectively put a bandage to Oklahoma City’s slippage, down just 55-33 at intermission.
Outside shooting became a staple early in the contest, and it remained prevalent throughout the first 24 minutes. Oklahoma City and Utah buried 7 and 8 triples respectively to total 45 points while shooting well into the forties. Lu Dort finished the half with four marks from his career-high, docking 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Dort contributed on both ends, drawing three charges in the first half while suffocating Donovan Mitchell when tasked to him. The little separation amongst both sides rested at the charity stripe as Utah attempted 11 tries to Oklahoma City’s 5.
The Jazz struck the right chord from the second-half’s onset, holding the Thunder blank to their first six attempts en route to scoring 12 consecutive points to begin the frame. Oklahoma City caught a window of opportunity following a successful Mark Daigneault challenge, but once Utah found their rhythm outside — all hope was lost. Utah continued to pillar their advantage, bolstering their lead as high as 20, closing the frame up 88-69.
Everything continued to fall Utah’s way in the fourth, reaching a 25-point lead at their apex. Oklahoma City caught a second wind to the tune of a 16-3 run. Lu Dort caught fire in the frame eclipsing his career-high in the frame, helping to cut the game to single-digits at the two-minute warning. And in a true testament to Oklahoma City’s will-power, Utah needed to deploy their starting to close out the contest.
42 points — that’s how many second-year guard Lu Dort dropped Tuesday night. The 21-year-old shot out like a cannon with 18 point spurts in frames one-and-four, while holding Donovan Mitchell (averaged 40.5 PPG in last four contests) to 22 points. Dort’s colossal duties in playing primary shot-creator and defending a top scorer in the league seemed near-effortless from Dort as he treaded along for 33 minutes only asking for a brief rest in the fourth quarter. By the night’s end, Dort had shot a piping-hot 16-of-31 from the floor, nailing 7-of-11 threes all coming from the wings and top-of-the-key.
Dort recognized his dominance postgame,” I was cookin’ tonight, but we didn’t win the game. I’m always looking to win. But I know I was cookin’.”
For Dort’s historic efforts, he snapped both his in-season (26) and playoff career-high (30) with relative ease, tying Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the Thunder’s largest single-game scoring performance of the season. In addition, Dort joined Kevin Durant as the only Thunder players under 21 to reach the 40-mark, while becoming the sixth player overall, tacking onto a decorated list of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Paul George, and Shai-Gilgeous Alexander.
“That’s nice being in that category. It’s big players. That’s my goal, to be one of the best in the league. To keep improving. I’m happy,” added Dort.
Oklahoma City shaved their turnovers nearly in half from their previous contest, improving their 23 turnover output to just 12 Tuesday. At the time, their delicate use of the ball helped rally themselves to a comeback, but continuous miscues on open looks (15 missed layups) created a paltry 13 assists, a season-low in the category.
One of the biggest storylines entering tip-off came from how Moses Brown would handle Rudy Gobert on the interior. Brown made Gobert hustle for every rebound corralled a game-high 15 rebounds to pair with 12 points. Gobert did a solid job hounding Oklahoma City guards inside, posing 7 blocks on the night.
Ty Jerome surfaced another pleasant performance hitting the double-digit mark with 12 points, emphatically punctuating his night by swishing a half-court jumper as the shot clock expired.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (20-34) will spring night back into action tomorrow night to finish their West-Coast set against the Golden State Warriors (26-28) before continuing onto their nine-game road-trip.