SALT LAKE CITY — Reggie Jackson barreled into a set defender on a fast break, picking up an offensive foul and erasing an easy-scoring opportunity.
Steven Adams was overly aggressive hedging out on a side pick-and-roll, ultimately slamming into a Utah ballhandler and getting slapped with a defensive foul.
Jeremy Lamb gave up the baseline, lowering his shoulder into an attacking offensive player instead of fundamentally sliding his feet when he got beat off the dribble.
Perry Jones III shuffled his feet when given the green light to attack off an inbounds play, turning it over on a traveling violation with six seconds remaining in the third quarter.
These were the growing pains on display by the Thunder's young guns in the team's season-opening 101-98 victory over Utah on Wednesday night.
The best thing about their collective performance is that it's in the book, providing them and the Thunder something to now build on as this season gets in full swing.
“They competed hard, and that's always the first thing for players to have success in the league,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “You're not going to always have a good offensive statistical game. But you have to compete hard, and they did that tonight.”
With guard Kevin Martin gone and Russell Westbrook recovering from knee surgery, Oklahoma City is left with no choice but to rely on inexperienced players more than it ever has since becoming a title contender.
Against the Jazz, Jackson started his first regular season game in place of Westbrook. Adams stepped in as the new backup center. Lamb was looked to as a perimeter shooter. Jones served as the somewhat surprising 10th player in the rotation.
Jackson impressed the most with 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting, adding three assists and five steals in 32 minutes. He calmly put in two free throws with 10.5 seconds remaining to push the Thunder's lead to three.
Adams, Jones and Lamb, meanwhile, combined for nine points, eight rebounds and one assist.
“I just got to get better overall,” said Lamb, who made two of six shots. “I made a lot of mistakes. But it's a lot of fixable things.”
What became clear Wednesday is how much room for improvement the Thunder has.
Utah, which is projected to be one of the league's worst teams this season, shot 45.6 percent, scoring 29 first-quarter points and battling back from a 15-point third quarter deficit to put unexpected pressure on the Thunder.
After spending all of October talking about the importance of better ball movement, the Thunder dished just nine assists — only three after halftime and none in the fourth quarter — on 33 made field goals. Part of the problem was the ball simply not going in the basket, as the Thunder shot just 40.7 percent. But the better part of Wednesday's 48 minutes was filled with questionable shot selection and minimal passes.
“It was not pretty, but this is something that we can build on,” said Derek Fisher. “You just have to figure out a way to win sometimes, and that's what we did.”
Oh yeah, Kevin Durant helped.
Durant poured in a game-high 42 points in 39 minutes, making nine of 24 shots and 22 of 24 free throws. He scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, often keeping the Jazz at bay behind free throw attempts. He made eight of 10 in the final period.
It wasn't how things were supposed to be, not with OKC having an entire preseason to prepare without Westbrook, and the Thunder can only hope Durant doesn't have to muster similar performances going forward to keep this team afloat until Westbrook returns.
But not even Durant was sure of how high his plate might pile up.
“I don't know,” he said. “We just got to take it a game at a time and see how teams play us.”