About an hour and a half before tipoff, I found myself with a vaguely defeatist outlook, based on the notion that hey, if the Jazz win, that makes things so much more difficult for the Lakers, and there’s a lot to be said for making things more difficult for the Lakers. The Jazz, however, did not win, the Thunder once again cranking up the fourth-quarter defense and taking a 14-point lead, though Utah rattled down the next seven points to slice that lead in half, and inside the 25-second mark they’d pulled to within four. In response, Kevin Durant knocked down a pair of free throws; then Russell Westbrook swiped a Jazz inbound pass and delivered it to the bucket, drew a foul, and knocked down two free throws of his own to ice it, 90-80.
It was not a particularly good night for either bench: 14 points for OKC, 11 for Utah. Nor did either side shoot well: OKC 39.5 percent, Utah 39.2. The Jazz did land four of five starters in double figures, led by Mo Williams with 19, and big Al Jefferson banged his way to a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds). The Thunder, meanwhile, landed four of five starters in double figures, led by Russell Westbrook with 25; slightly less big Kevin Durant just missed a triple-double (21 points, 12 boards, nine assists.) If this sounds like it was pretty close, well, it was; the Jazz were never really out of it, but they didn’t ever catch up either.
And allow me to say a few words about the much-misunderstood Jamaal Tinsley, whose seven years with Indiana ended with his being epoxied to the pine while the Pacers begged for some team to take him off their hands. The Grizzlies flirted with him for a while, but at the beginning of the 2011-12 season he was down in the D-League. The Jazz watched him play, signed him, and this year gave him a one-year contract extension. He missed his only shot tonight, but in ten minutes he came up with three boards and four dimes. Not a bad comeback for a 35-year-old.
The OKC road trip ends in a flurry: Thursday at Golden State, Friday at Portland. Games 81 and 82 are back at home: the Kings on Monday, the Bucks on Wednesday.