Jazz Thrash Thunder Despite Early-Season Rust

Oct 20, 2021, 11:39 PM
Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)...
Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz had little trouble disposing of the Oklahoma City Thunder 107-86 despite showing some obvious growing pains in their season opener.

The Jazz were led by Bojan Bogdanovic who scored 22 points and Jordan Clarkson who added 18 off the bench. Rudy Gobert opened the season with a double-double recording 16 points and a game-high 21 rebounds.

The Thunder were led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who scored 18 points but needed 17 shots to reach his total and was a game-worst -21 on the floor.

Jazz Show Early Season Rust Offensively

Though the Jazz were never really challenged by the Thunder, they proved they still had kinks to work out after a week off between their preseason finale and regular season opener.

Donovan Mitchell started the game 1-8 before catching fire in the third quarter but still managed just 16 points on 17 shots to begin the year.

While the Jazz had only 10 turnovers on the night, they were prone to overpassing throughout the first half of the game, regularly defaulting to unnecessary ball movement rather than taking open shots.

“I thought if anything we were passing up shots early,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I think that was a function of the first game just being a little bit hesitant.”

Mike Conley also struggled to find his shot connecting on just 4-12 from the field for 10 points but dished out four assists in just 25 minutes.

Jazz newcomers Eric Paschall, Jared Butler, and Hassan Whiteside also struggled in their debuts. Paschall and Butler combined to shoot just 1-9 from the floor while Whiteside picked five fouls in just 18 minutes of play.

“He’s going to make some mistakes, and there’s going to be a learning curve,” Snyder said of the rookie Butler. “And he’s going to make some really good plays and he’s going keep growing. And there’s no pressure on him to do anything other than play hard and get better.”

But while several Jazz players struggled to regain midseason form, Bogdanovic opened the year with a similar rhythm to how he finished last season. The forward knocked down 10-17 shots from the floor and 2-6 from three in route to his game-high 22 points while adding four assists and two rebounds.

After a strong close to the preseason knocking off the New Orleans Pelicans and Milwaukee Bucks, it was clear the Jazz still have work to do before returning to form as contenders.

Jazz Impress Defensively

As much as the Jazz struggled on offense, the team showed equal promise on the defensive end.

The Jazz allowed Oklahoma City to shoot just 37 percent from the floor and 20 percent from the three-point line en route to 86 points.

“You can’t control if you’re going to make shots or not,” Gobert said after the win, “but you can control how you’re going to play defense. If we control what we can control every night and focus on that, we can win a lot of games.”

After opening the game 2-2 from the floor, the Jazz held Thunder guard Lu Dort to 0-8 over the final 44 minutes of action to stimy Oklahoma City’s preseason leading scorer. Dort scored 42 points in his last meeting with the Jazz but finished Wednesday’s season opener with just seven points on 2-10 shooting.

“Being able to set that tone for me I think was the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of defending Dort. “Just being able to guard and keep them in front.”

In total, only three Thunder players reached double figures and no starter shot above 50 percent from the field, showing a marked improvement from the Jazz perimeter defense after last season’s early playoff exit.

Mitchell’s Ankle Still On His Mind

Even after a full summer rehabbing his ankle, Mitchell admitted that he hasn’t totally shaken off the injury that caused him to miss the final 15 games of the regular season last year.

Late in the game against the Thunder, Mitchell stepped strangely on his injured right ankle and came up moving gingerly before regaining his confidence.

“It wasn’t too long ago that that play out there would have probably been bad,” Mitchell said.

The guard played nearly 29 minutes in the season opener, the second-most on the Jazz behind Gobert, and was moving fine after the game, but it may be a while before he trusts his ankle 100 percent.

“That just comes with time,” Mitchell said. “I wouldn’t say I’m nervous, I’m very confident in my ankle and my ability to keep going out there, but it’s a process.”

The Jazz now head to Sacramento for their road opener on Friday against the Kings.

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