Aerial ballet

Sometimes the Thunder start things off seriously inauspiciously, and this was one of those nights: it took the Jazz about twelve tries to miss a shot, and Utah had a fat 37-27 lead after the first quarter. But from that point on, it was all OKC, and how they did it was wholly unexpected: deployment of the long ball. The Thunder, usually around the bottom of the league in beyond-the-arc prowess, hit 13 of 21, and would have done better except that Kevin Durant was having a slightly-below-average (21 points, 12 rebounds) night. In the last three quarters, it was Thunder 94, Jazz 68, and if Jerry Sloan didn’t actually do a facepalm on camera, he surely was wondering what the hell happened: the Jazz shot over 51 percent, were +2 on the boards, moved the ball with alacrity (30 assists), and yet OKC is going home with a 121-105 win and a 2-1 lead in the season series.

Paul Millsap, who outscored everyone — 34 points, 10 boards — was his usual formidable self, despite getting into foul trouble early, and three other Jazzmen rolled up double digits. But Russell Westbrook (33 points/10 assists) won the Battle of the Point Guards over Deron Williams (14 points/11 assists), and the Jazz bench contributed only 16 points to the cause, two fewer than James Harden. (The Thunder reserves finished with 33.) The Uncle Jeff factor: Jeff Green checked in with 20, missing only one shot all night.

So a titanic defensive struggle this wasn’t. And I’m still trying to figure out how it is that the first three games in this season series have all gone to the visitors. (The fourth game, on the 23rd of March, is in OKC, so the Jazz perhaps have some reason to be hopeful.) But for now — which, I know, doesn’t mean squat — the Thunder are 3½ games up on Denver and 4 on Utah. And the Grizzlies, who have won eight of their last ten, arrive Tuesday night during Blizzard ’11 Part Deux; the one saving grace here may be that the night before, they have to take on the Lakers. Or not, given L.A.’s apparent diffidence about turning the screws this early in the season.





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