Deron Williams felt like Russell Westbrook was trying to challenge him. Once high-scoring teammate Mehmet Okur went out with an injury, Williams had even more incentive to go after the rookie.
Williams scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half and added 11 assists, leading the Utah Jazz to a 101-94 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night despite losing Okur in the first half.
“I just felt like I needed to get it going a little bit,” Williams said.
He did just that.
Williams hit his first eight shots in the second half and directed a 16-6 run that gave the Jazz a 15-point lead that proved insurmountable.
Carlos Boozer added 15 points and eight rebounds, Paul Millsap scored 14 and Okur had 12 points before he was poked in the eye in the second quarter and had to leave the game.
Okur had the hot hand for Utah early, so Williams felt the need to replace his scoring—and Westbrook didn’t do anything to dissuade him.
“The young fella was trying to come at me in the first quarter a little bit,” Williams said. “I was just trying to get everybody involved. The first half, I thought we were doing a good job executing.
“There was really no need for me to force things and get eight turnovers. So, I was just trying to play that role.”
That all changed after halftime.
Williams had four baskets and passed out assists on the other four while directing a 16-6 run that put Utah up 71-56 with 4 minutes to go in the third quarter. Williams finished the quarter 6-for-6 from the field and made his first eight shots of the second half in a performance reminiscent of Derrick Rose’s 10-for-10 second half shooting in the Chicago Bulls’ 103-96 win at Oklahoma City two nights earlier.
“If you step back, he makes it. And if you don’t, he goes by you and he finds somebody,” Utah forward C.J. Miles said. “It sounds simple, but defensively trying to guard him, it’s real hard.”
Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 24 points and 12 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook added 22 points.
The Jazz came in with a 13-20 road record that was the worst among the top nine teams in the Western Conference, having lost three in a row after a season-best four-game win streak away from home.
But this time, Williams provided a big enough lead down the stretch for the Jazz. Williams’ last of eight straight makes to start the second half made it 94-82 with 4:38 remaining, and even missing one of his shots and having another one swatted to start an Oklahoma City fastbreak didn’t matter all that much.
Westbrook’s two-handed jam got Oklahoma City to 97-92 with 32.6 seconds left, but Kyle Korver hit all four of his free throws to close out the game and finished with 10 points.
Utah moved into a tie with Portland for second place in the Northwest Division, one game behind Denver.
“Utah did a great job running the offense and we couldn’t get stops when we needed it,” Westbrook said. “But I do think we did a good job fighting back when we dug ourselves a hole. They just shot a good percentage from the field and it was just hard for us to get back in.”
Coach Jerry Sloan said before the game that he thought the Jazz were “not a real tough team, and I think that hurts us” on the road. He changed his tune after Utah avenged a 21-point loss from its last visit to Oklahoma City.
“I thought that our team was more ready to play than they have been in some time out on the road,” Sloan said.
Okur, Utah’s second-leading scorer with a 17.6-point average, headed to the locker room after getting poked in the eye by Chucky Atkins with 7:41 left in the second quarter and did not return. Trainers reported that he had no structural damage but couldn’t return because he was seeing double.
Okur had a welt on his right eyelid after the game and was feeling thankful that it wasn’t worse. Phoenix’s Amare Stoudemire is out for the season after having his retina partially detached.
“After I laid down, I couldn’t see anything with the right,” Okur said. “I’m glad it’s not as bad as like Amare had. The first thing through my mind was Amare had the same thing.”
Jeff Green had 15 points, Nick Collison recorded his second straight double-double off the bench with 11 points and 10 rebounds and Nenad Krstic scored 10 points for the Thunder.
The Jazz took the lead for good with a six-point burst early in the second quarter that Okur finished with a jumper in the lane on his last shot before he went out. Utah then started pulling away with a 10-2 run to go up 45-35 on Williams’ runner. Then the point guard went to work again in the second half.
“It was a must-win,” Williams said. “I told the guys that before the game: `This is a must-win game and we’ve got to come out and this has to be our game.’
“That’s another reason I tried to step up in the second half is because I didn’t want to take any chances of letting this one slip away.”