SALT LAKE CITY â€” So much has been so bad for the Oklahoma City Thunder that the last thing this team needed Monday night was a tough start.
But the Thunder found itself in a nightmarish start when Utah point guard Deron Williams promptly splashed his first three 3-point attempts through the net, opening a nine-point lead less than three minutes into the game. And with the way OKC has underachieved all season defensively and sputtered at times offensively, there was little to suggest the Thunder could dig itself out of a hole in one of the NBA's toughest buildings.
After securing a hard-fought 115-108 victory over the Jazz, however, the Thunder showed there is at least one characteristic from last year's lovable 50-win team that has indeed spilled over into this season of inconsistency.
Oklahoma City held off a Jazz team that in the last 1 1/2 weeks has stormed back from double-digit deficits against Miami, Orlando and Charlotte.
â€œThey were desperate for a win and wanted to get one, and they came out in our building and beat us,â€ said Utah coach Jerry Sloan.
It was the Thunder's latest showing of resiliency. Oklahoma City moved to 2-0 on the second night of back-to-backs, each win coming after humiliating defeats in the first game.
â€œThey started off very hot,â€ said Kevin Durant, who finished with a team-high 30 points. â€œI think we did a good job of bouncing back. That's the type of team we are. We're a resilient team. We've been like that all last year and some this year a little bit as well in spurts. But tonight, I think we put a good game together.â€
It was arguably the Thunder's most complete game. Aside from the game's first six minutes, when the Jazz built a 12-point lead, the Thunder played with passion and purpose throughout. When the Jazz came out on fire, Thunder players began talking and encouraging each other to get stops and congratulating each other on made shots. The team's competitive side had re-emerged.
And everyone played a role.
After returning from a three-game absence Sunday because of a sprained left ankle, forward Jeff Green missed Monday's game after aggravating the injury against San Antonio. In his absence, Serge Ibaka once again proved to be more than an adequate replacement, scoring a career-high 22 points on 9 of 13 shooting. The second-year forward torched the Jazz with several timely mid-range jumpers and was a force around the rim, gobbling up a game-high 11 rebounds to go with his four blocked shots.
â€œTonight's game was as well as I've ever seen him play,â€ said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. â€œHe just played with great effort, and defensively he was always around the basket.â€
When Russell Westbrook had to sit early in the second quarter after picking up his third foul, it was third-string point guard Royal Ivey who provided impact minutes. Ivey's most critical play came when he defended hot-hand C.J. Miles late in the game and made the Jazz swingman fumble the ball in the corner to foil a 3-point attempt.
And the Thunder again closed it out at the foul line, hitting 33 of 34 from the line.