With Oklahoma City missing key pieces in guards Lu Dort (calf) and Ty Jerome (ankle) while Utah lost services of All-Star Donovan Mitchell (ankle), Friday’s contest set the stage for a battle of the benches. In the end, the Thunder fell short, falling to the Jazz 109-93. Oklahoma City’s top-three lottery aspirations prevailed with the loss, now sitting at 21-50 on the season. For Utah, this win laid the foundation for a top seed in the West. Utah’s victory boosted their record to 51-20 on the year, now boasting a 1.5 game advantage over the second seeded Suns, meaning they now control their own destiny.
Utah set the tone early with a 14-4 opener, nailing 3-of-4 field goals from beyond the arch. Theo Maledon boosted the Thunder scoring the team’s first seven points, helping to account for an assist just a few possessions later. Maledon’s jolt of energy seeped into his teammates for the better portion of the frame as Oklahoma City ran a 9-2 response, keeping just 5 or 6 points from the lead most of the way. Quin Snyder made a studious call in the final two minutes inserting his starters against the Thunder bench, bottling the period on a 10-4 run with a 30-20 lead.
The Jazz as a collective continued to hoard points in the sunset stages of the second, until the Thunder ran through one man — Svi Mykhailiuk. Mykhailiuk blazed onto the floor with 9 of the team’s first 13 points, adding his marks through a culmination of layups, pullups, and triples in the first five minutes. Oklahoma City’s easy-bake offense was put to a halt by Snyder as after a full timeout, Mykhailiuk had been relegated to the bench. With Svi’s absence, Utah looked towards microwaves Jordan Clarkson and Derrick Favors for production, leading to eight straight Jazz points in an 8-2 push. Down eleven, the Thunder went inside for free throws and points in the final five minutes, a move that notched them their final 10 points — but kept them on the outside as Utah snagged a 61-47 lead.
Shot disparity ruled the second half. Utah kept their attacks at all angles, firing down 52-percent of attempts while shooting 7-of-16 (43.8%) from distance, and getting to the line 13 times for 10 hits. Oklahoma City’s scoring palette came in splotches. The Thunder painted the canvas with a 42-percent success rate, but with only trying 10 (4-of-10 3pt FG) triples — they brushed the interior most of the way. Svi Mykhailiuk was the outlier in Mark Daigneault’s plan, splashing 3 of the Thunder’s 4 triples to highlight a 17-point (7-of-10 FG) half.
Oklahoma City stuck to the interior to start the third, churning out six points in the first 62 seconds. Then they drew up a five-minute cold spell recording zero points and a blank 0-of-9 shot chart in the process. Utah took charge of the situation, canning a pair of triples and a trio of Gobert free throws in what highlighted a 12-0 run that strung the Jazz up 23 points. Aleksej Pokusevski broke the streak with a 10-foot turnaround jumper but success became bleak rather quickly yet again. With Oklahoma City finishing the quarter on a 9-of-23 (39.1%) shooting clip, their moments were futile — finding themselves down 92-66 heading into the fourth.
Quin Snyder and Mark Daigneault alike stuck to rookies and their second units for the final frame. Daigneault’s rotation paved the way for _ fourth-quarter points for Gabriel Deck, an extended run for Jaylen Hoard, and one last breath for Charlie Brown Jr., playing the full 12 minutes in what likely may be his final game in a Thunder jersey, as his contract expires Saturday.
“We’re just trying to tick forward. We’re trying to use these games to develop our players and understand what we have and I thought we did that again tonight,” said Mark Daigneault.
Utah may have entered this game underhanded on paper, but with All-Star Rudy Gobert and a red-hot Bogan Bogdanovic, a week removed from a 48-point outing — they were grounded. The Jazz’s splits were nothing to glamour about, going 43-percent overall and 33-percent from three, though their 13-6 advantage from distance coupled with a 21-16 lead a the line really salted any wounds. Five Utah players strummed out double-digits with Bojan Bodganovic leading the pack with 22 points (8-of-16 FG) while Jordan Clarkson invigorated the bench with 18 points (7-of-18 FG.) Rudy Gobert boarded himself into the paint in his 26 minutes, churning out 16 points (5-of-9 FG) and 18 rebounds from the “Stifle Tower.”
Oklahoma City’s “youth-induced” rotation had pitter-patter moments of light in the game, but their real lack of prior cohesion set them off course. The Thunder’s offense never really materialized this game, leading to a plethora of protracted possessions and shaky shot selection — ending in 15 turnovers, and just 13 assists.
The Thunder shot nearly identical to the Jazz going 43-percent overall, and 32-percent from distance, but their paltry 6 makes from three really set the tone.
Svi Mykhailiuk was the primary cog in Daigneault’s system, ending the night with a team-high 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Mykhailiuk did it all, being used as a fastbreak finisher, a slasher to the basket, and even a sharpshooter — draining 3-of-4 triples.
Theo Maledon bounced back on his feet Friday night, returning from a one-game absence for 18 points (7-of-16 FG), 3 assists, and 2 steals. Maledon’s artillery consisted of free-throw floaters and triples across both wings. The Frenchmen blossomed at the ring-wing, drilling both attempts, but had a rough time on the left-wing (0-of-3 FG) and around the cup.
“I think it [Friday’s game] was a great opportunity for us to learn and compete against one of the best defenses in the league with one of the best defenders in the league and understand that we really need to work things on offense, move the ball, and play together to get the best shot possible on each possession,” said Maledon.
Gabriel Deck started the night with six first-half points, but after a 12-point fourth quarter — he set a new career-high of 18 points. Deck’s game heavily consisted on mid-range shots including two turnaround jumpers and a foot-on-the-line two.
Jaylen Hoard and Aleksej Pokusevski pumped the forward positions with 9 and 6 points respectively as Hoard shot 4-of-5 while Poku branched off to go 3-of-10 with 9 rebounds.
Darius Bazley was outnumbered by Utah’s frontcourt all night, going for a mere 2 points on 1-of-13 shooting (0-of-4 3pt FG) with no free throws.
Oklahoma City will conclude their season Sunday night against the Los Angeles Clippers in match that for one decides ping-pong balls, and the other — playoff seeding.