Bench Leads Thunder To Win Over Utah

Wednesday, November 26th 2014, 11:10 pm
By: News 9

UPDATE: The Thunder announced after Wednesday's game it had waived point guard Sebastian Telfair. Telfair appeared in 16 games (one start) with the Thunder, averaging 8.4 points, 2.8 assists, and 1.9 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per contest.

The move means OKC chose to keep Ish Smith on the roster, an interesting move given that Smith has barely played since joining the Thunder a couple weeks ago. You have to feel for Telfair, who was playing a lot better over the past two weeks, but it's a business and the Thunder went with the better overall player. 

Oklahoma City's roster now stands at 15, which means it's very likely Russell Westbrook will be back soon, possibly even Friday night. 

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are practicing again and so is Mitch McGary (can't forget about him). The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter for Oklahoma City as the Thunder works its way through a brutal stretch of injuries.

Maybe all the positive vibes around the Thunder practice facility had an impact on the rest of the team. Maybe not, but whatever it was, the Thunder played perhaps its best game of the young season Wednesday night, snapping a six-game losing streak by defeating Utah, 97-82.

Oklahoma City shot 48 percent, 46 percent from 3-point range, and forced 19 turnovers. The Thunder was terrific on both ends of the floor and got key contributions from everyone, but none more than the bench.

The Thunder bench outscored the Utah bench, 44-3, and it goes without saying it was the difference in the game. Not just the scoring disparity, but when the contributions came, and who they came from.

The star was Jeremy Lamb. To say Lamb has had an up-and-down season is putting it lightly, but Lamb was sensational against the Jazz. He scored 21 points on just eight shots—he made seven of them—and was a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range. On defense, he had three steals and did a good job of sticking with Gordon Hayward, who is anything but an easy cover.

Lamb fouled out with 4:38 to play and got a standing ovation as he went to the bench.

Anthony Morrow also had a strong showing off the bench, connecting on 4-of-9 shots from 3-point range. The final one was the dagger for OKC, as Kendrick Perkins missed a free throw, gathered the offensive rebound, and then found Morrow for a wide-open 3-pointer and a 95-75 lead with 3:41 to play.

The Jazz held a 25-15 lead when the bench unit of Morrow, Lamb, Perkins, Sebastian Telfair and Nick Collison first came on the floor together. Over the last four minutes of the first quarter, the unit reeled off a 16-4 run, leading to a 31-29 lead at the end of the first half for OKC. The run kick-started the Thunder on both ends of the floor and OKC barely trailed the rest of the game.

The Thunder stars were solid as well, as Reggie Jackson went for 22 points and eight assists. Serge Ibaka finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. The only negative part of the Thunder's performance was just one free throw attempt between those two players and just 10 for the whole team. Consistently getting to the free throw line has been a problem for the Thunder without Durant and Westbrook and it was once again against Utah, which went to the line 28 times.

All five Utah starters scored in double figures, led by Hayward's 24 points. Enes Kanter and Alec Burks each scored 16 points for the Jazz.

The Thunder's hardship waiver—which has allowed them to keep Ish Smith on the roster—expires tomorrow, so it's possible any of Westbrook, Durant and McGary return on Friday against the Knicks. Thunder coach Scott Brooks hasn't ruled Westbrook out yet, but it's unlikely Durant will join the team this week.

Still, the end of this brutal start to the season is coming very soon. The Thunder has struggled, but it won't be long before winning becomes commonplace once again.