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Thunder strike sour note, fall to Jazz 107-86 in season-opener

Four draft selections, seven new faces, a new year ahead, and a new arena — the Oklahoma City Thunder strutted into Wednesday’s season opener with a facelift. The new-look Thunder faced a learning curve in their opener, faltering to the Utah Jazz 107-86. The loss for the Thunder marks their first of the season as they begin their 82-game venture down 0-1, while for the Jazz, they start with the right chord sitting at an undefeated 1-0.

Mark Daigneault enlisted Josh Giddey in his starting group of five alongside Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, Darius Bazley, and Derrick Favors. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander opened the night with the first points of the Thunder’s season with a driving finish off of a high-ball screen. Utah stormed back, rattling off nine consecutive points, six of which came right around the cup. Oklahoma City returned fire with a flurry of inside attempts as Dort, Bazley, and Giddey all canned a layup each to draw close, however, the Jazz continued to rock the paint, leading 13-8 by the first timeout. The mid-portion of the frame shed light on Giddey’s isolation-play, a notion that netted a top-of-the-key blow-by against Royce O’ Neal, resulting in a missed Favors layup. The Thunder encroached single-possession territory following a Lu Dort straight-away triple, but the stint was short-lived. Daigneault made an intriguing first wave of rotations swapping out Derrick Favors for Isaiah Roby before Aleksej Pokusevski and Josh Giddey for Tre Mann, checking in before last year’s mainstays in Theo Maledon and Ty Jerome. Utah’s bench unit kicked up a notch behind Jordan Clarkson in the latter portions of the frame, taking an 8-0 run late to cement a double-digit lead, holding on to a 27-18 lead.

Utah mounted a 15-point lead a minute into play following two Joe Ingles triples before the Thunder tapped back in with a Kenrich Williams layup. Theo Maledon, the Thunder’s minute’s leader last season, sparked his first minutes to open the second, finding the basket with a turnaround post layup to scathe the stat line. The Jazz’s tandem between Rudy Gobert and Jordan Clarkson pioneered a 7-0 streak pushing the lead to 19 but another jolt from the Thunder prevented any further damage. Oklahoma City and Utah ping-ponged between a 15-and-19 point lead until the four-minute mark when a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander runner and three cut the hole to 12, latching onto a 54-42 halftime tally.

Oklahoma City put a major emphasis on hitting from beyond the arch during the half but instead found themself left to wolves, shooting a lowly 2-of-16 from deep. The Jazz struck a sour note from distance as well shooting 22.7 percent (5-of-22 3PT) from outside, even holding Donovan Mitchell to 2 points, however, they feasted in the painted area going 15-of-21 in the paint while Rudy Gobert logged a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double in 16 minutes of run.

The Thunder opened the second half with a promising first play clocking Derrick Favors chase down block with a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander layup on the other end — only to whiff off of the backboard. It looked as if the Thunder might’ve been able to breach single digits, but a bevy of rotational mishaps stirred an 11-2 run to tune themselves up 20. Darius Bazley turned up the heat for two slashing dunks hammering home a driving posterizer before a broken-down play led to a breakaway slam. Donovan Mitchell continued to pile on the pressure, posting 12 of the Jazz’s first 20 points, opening up all three levels to stack the lead to 25. Utah’s lead of 20 swayed in the closing portion of the third until the buzzer as a fastbreak buzzer-beater saw Darius Bazley scoop and score to be down 83-63 heading into the fourth.

Oklahoma City turned to the three-ball to begin the fourth quarter, cashing in on a Darius Bazley three and two Jeremiah Robinson-Earl face-up jumpers. The move proved to be pivotal as the Thunder got their head above water down 15. Utah stuck their head back into the paint to drum up two made baskets before seeping into the three to replenish a 25-point lead. Mark Daigneault opted to keep his starting unit out until the final three minutes in which Vit Krejci, the Thunder’s second-round pick in 2020, placed his NBA debut. The Thunder’s youth wave impressed in the draining minutes as Tre Mann nailed a stepback three while Isaiah Roby bottled a full-extension poster at the rim. At the buzzer, Oklahoma City faltered 107-86.       

Oklahoma City caught the case of opening-night jitters shooting a mere 37.4 percent off of a 34-of-91 outing. The Thunder’s hit rate slipped even further as they expanded to the three shooting 20 percent on a 7-of-35 palette.

Utah shot a less-than-ideal 44 percent on Wednesday while going an unimpressive 29.8 percent at the three, but they collected themselves abusing the paint en route to a 25-of-38 chart inside. This model was exemplified in the box sheet as Rudy Gobert tallied 16 points and 21 rebounds in 29 minutes. As for the remaining crew, Bojan Bogdanovic led all scorers with 22 points on a 10-of-17 outing while guards Jordan Clarkson and Donovan Mitchell were close behind with 18 and 16 points, respectively. 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander recorded the Thunder’s team-high chipping in 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. Gilgeous-Alexander did a solid job penetrating to the rack shooting 6-of-10 on twos, but the fourth-year guard hit a standstill from distance, shooting 1-of-7. SGA went under the radar in the passing department with just a pair of passes to show, but it should be noted the team encountered a slew of rotational issues and missed wide-open shots.  

Darius Bazley earned a hefty 31 minutes in Wednesday’s opener, making the most of it with 15 points and 7 rebounds. Bazley converted on 5-of-14 in the contest dominating on drives, but the forward hit a plateau from three, matching SGA’s mark going 1-of-7 from downtown. Though Baze struggled in his shot, there appeared to be little hesitation between takes, which is a solid indicator for his offseason regimen.  

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl tallied the Thunder’s third-largest scoring debut in history with 10 points off of the bench. Robinson-Earl was unfazed by the big stage, shooting a profound 4-of-6 while dialing in two threes in the process. Other segments of the 20-year-old’s game were cast into the shadows as he primarily operated as a pick-and-pop piece, but he did an astute job in said role.

Tre Mann sourced a scoring kick-off of the bench posting 9 points in 15 minutes. Mann had shown evident signs of second-guessing with shot taking during the preseason, but the Florida alum did not shy away from his forte, hoisting seven shots, hitting four. Mann’s quick handle was lethal against Utah’s backcourt, freezing defenders with his signature stepback. 

Josh Giddey finished the night with a feeble 4 points, but the 19-year-old impacted the game outside of the scoring column ending with a team-high 10 rebounds with 3 assists. Giddey elected to stay inside during the game but his combo of pullups and layups got him a 2-of-7 resume for the night. Giddey churned out a collection of successful dribble drives during the evening, but the cohesion from the perimeter was not there.

As for other interesting moments, Lu Dort posted a hot 7-point first quarter but stagnated for a 2-of-10 game while the fifth starter in Derrick Favors shot 2-of-9 to hit 4 points and 9 rebounds. 

In the minute department, Theo Maledon logged sixth-man minutes with 21 while Aleksej Pokusevski trimmed his stint to 15 minutes. In the case of Ty Jerome, the guard did not appear, as did Gabriel Deck and Mike Muscala.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (0-1) will have the opportunity to taste victory on Friday as they will face the Houston Rockets (0-1), in Houston.  

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