With just a handful of games remaining, the Thunder's visit to Utah Tuesday came with huge playoff implications for each team. Thanks to stellar team defense and a balanced scoring attack, Oklahoma City got what it came for.
Kevin Durant just missed a triple-double, scoring 21 points, grabbing 12 boards and dishing out nine assists to lead the Thunder to a huge 90-80 win over the Jazz.
OKC took control early, using two first-quarter runs (one 7-0, the other 9-4), to build an 18-10 lead with 4:52 to play in the first quarter.
The usual suspects did the damage for the Thunder in the first half, as Kevin Durant's 13 points and Russell Westbrook's 10 led OKC to a 45-35 halftime lead. The Thunder's defense was on lockdown, holding Utah to 16 points in the second quarter while forcing 10 turnovers and limiting the Jazz to just 35 percent shooting in the half.
Oklahoma City got a boost from its 3-point shooting in the first half, nailing 5-10 from downtown including three 3-balls from Thabo Sefolosha.
The second half was a back-and-forth contest, but the Thunder's 10-point halftime stiff arm proved too much for Utah to overcome. The Jazz did cut it to six on Gordon Hayward's bucket with 9:07 remaining in the fourth, but Kevin Martin answered with a 3-ball to make it 75-66 and gave OKC breathing room once again. Martin finished with just five points.
Despite what seemed like a lack of energy for most of the game, the Jazz made one last push. Trailing 82-70 with three minutes to play, Utah put together a 10-2 burst to come within 84-80 with 23 second left, but Durant and Westbrook slammed the door shut.
Oklahoma City (57-21) moves back within ½ game of the Spurs for the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference Playoffs. The Jazz (41-38) now slips into a tie for the No. 8 seed with the Lakers, pending LA's bout with the Hornets Tuesday.
Westbrook finished with 25 points on 8-21 shooting, while Serge Ibaka added 16 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. The Thunder shot just 39.5 percent from the floor, but forced the Jazz into a 39.2 percent clip along with 17 turnovers.
OKC now heads to Oakland to face the Golden State Warriors. Tip is set for Thursday night at 9:30 p.m.