OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Paul George heard the “MVP! MVP!” chants from the sellout crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and while the Oklahoma City star appreciated them, he was happier the Thunder had just beaten the foe that ended their season last spring.
George went 5 of 6 from 3-point range and scored 31 points, Dennis Schroder added 23 and the Thunder beat the Utah Jazz 122-113 on Monday night.
Steven Adams had 22 points in the first meeting since the Jazz downed the Thunder in six games in the first round of last season’s Western Conference playoffs. Oklahoma City overcame a 4-of-18 shooting performance by Russell Westbrook, who nonetheless managed a triple-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
Oklahoma City has won 15 straight regular-season games at home against Utah, although the Jazz did beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City in Game 2 during their playoff series. The Thunder have gone 17-4 since starting this season 0-4.
“I’m going to just play hard,” George said about the chants. “If that happens at the end of the year, then so be it. That’s the least of my concerns. Right now, I’m enjoying playing with this group. We’ve got a special group here. We want to win. We want to win big. That’s first and foremost. Anything else after that, it’s appreciated, but that’s not the concern.”
Donovan Mitchell battled foul trouble much of the game but led the Jazz with 19 points, while Rudy Gobert recorded his 23rd double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds. It was the second lopsided road loss in two days for Utah, which fell 110-97 on Sunday at San Antonio.
The Thunder jumped to a 6-0 lead, causing Jazz coach Quin Snyder to call a timeout just 68 seconds into the game. Oklahoma City gradually built its lead to 17 points before settling for a 57-46 halftime advantage.
“We didn’t do enough on the defensive end, collectively, and that impacts everything,” Snyder said. “We usually weren’t efficient offensively — either didn’t get a good shot or turned it over. You put yourself behind the 8-ball and you almost have to be lucky or perfect to get back in the game and we didn’t play well enough.”
George, who scored 25 fourth-quarter points during a 47-point outburst in a win at Brooklyn on Wednesday, nearly reprised that performance in the third quarter.
George hit his first 3-point attempt 50 seconds before halftime, then hit his next four shots from behind the arc en route to a 17-point third quarter. That helped the Thunder build their lead to 26 points near the end of the period and the Jazz never seriously threatened after that, although they did cut a 29-point deficit to nine in the final minute.
“He was real balanced, under control, took open shots, knocked them down,” Westbrook said of George. “He played at his own pace.”
Jae Crowder had 13 points and Derrick Favors had 12 for the Jazz.
The Jazz outscored the Thunder 38-23 in the fourth quarter. Epke Udoh, from nearby Edmond, scored 10 points in nine minutes to spark Utah’s bench.
“It’s good to see guys that compete and guys that contribute,” Snyder said. “Any time those guys, regardless of the score or situation, they come in the game, you expect them to play the right way and they did. It was good to see their activity. They really made an effort to get the ball to the rim and as a result they created looks for each other.”
For a good chunk of the quarter, Thunder coach Billy Donovan stood on the sideline with a look something between bewilderment and frustration. But except for Westbrook, he didn’t bring his starters back into the game, choosing to let many of his reserves figure it out.
“I didn’t think we defended the way we were capable of in the fourth quarter,” Donovan said.
Jazz: Mitchell hit a halfcourt shot at the first-quarter buzzer for his first points of the game, allowing him to avoid a second straight scoreless first quarter . Ricky Rubio, who had averaged 18.8 points during Utah’s previous eight road games, had 10 against the Thunder.
Thunder: The Thunder are 14-1 this season against sub-.500 opponents, including the Jazz, who entered the game at 13-14 . The triple-double was the 110th of Westbrook’s career.