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Jazz knock off Thunder in emotional game with playoff atmosphere

SHARE Jazz knock off Thunder in emotional game with playoff atmosphere
We wanted this one bad. It was an emotional game for us. We just wanted to make sure we won. – Gordon Hayward

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz won’t be in the NBA playoffs this year — they’re a long way from making them — but they enjoyed the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere they’ve had in years Saturday night when they defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 94-89 at EnergySolutions Arena.

Perhaps it had something to do with the return of Enes Kanter, which fired up the sellout crowd or because the NBA’s hottest player, Russell Westbrook, was in town. Maybe it was the fact the Jazz fought back from a 16-point first-half deficit to knock off a team that is fighting for its playoff life. Perhaps it was a combination of all of the above, but it was enough to cause one longtime Jazz official to remark after the game, “It was just like old times.’’

“That was probably the loudest game we’ve had all year,’’ said Trey Burke, who led the Jazz with 22 points. “We wouldn’t have won without the fans.’’

“We wanted this one bad,’’ said Gordon Hayward, who referenced the comments made by Kanter earlier in the day. “It was an emotional game for us. We just wanted to make sure we won.’’

Rudy Gobert, who had his 19th double-double of the year with 13 points and 15 rebounds, said playing against his old teammate Kanter was a factor in his team’s motivated play.

“It pumped us up really good,’’ he said. “Of course he was coming back here and wanting to show he was better than me so I had to have the team win, because the most important thing to me is winning.’’

Gobert, who has struggled from the free-throw line much of the season and came into the game at 61.8 percent, hit two big free throws with 8.7 seconds left with the Jazz leading by two points.

His two previous free throws had bounced off the front of the rim, but he sank both – the first bouncing high and rattling around before falling and the second was nothing but net.

“I was just thinking ‘Make those,’’’ he said. “I don’t why (the previous ones) were short, so I had to make those.’’

The Jazz shook off a poor shooting night (38.1 percent) to pick up the win and break a four-game losing streak, as they improved to 32-41 on the season. A big factor was only turning the ball over 11 times, compared to 23 turnovers for the Thunder.

Despite his 22 points, Burke was just 8 for 23 from the field and Hayward, who was coming back after missing two games this week with a shoulder injury, hit only 4 of 16, and missed all six 3-point tries.

Chris Johnson, who joined the Jazz just two days earlier, came up with perhaps the biggest shot of the night with 3:01 left in the game.

The Thunder had cut a 13-point fourth-quarter Jazz lead to just five, when Johnson, who had just re-entered the game, grabbed the rebound off a missed free throw, then hustled downcourt. He received a pass in the left corner from Trey Burke and drained the 3-pointer to put the Jazz back up by eight and halt OKC’s momentum.

“I was just wide open so I took the shot,’’ Johnson said. “I just shot the ball with confidence and knocked it down.’’

The Jazz were playing without Derrick Favors, whose back tightened up earlier in the day. So Trevor Booker was pressed into a starting role and scored 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting in 33 minutes of action.

Westbrook scored 11 of the Thunder’s first 13 points and appeared on his way to another triple-double after having seven since the All-Star break. He had six assists in the first quarter, but amazingly didn’t have another the rest of the game. He had eight rebounds on the night, but almost hit double-digits with nine turnovers.

Westbrook finished with 37 points while Kanter chipped in 18 points and 11 rebounds. Anthony Morrow had 12 off the bench.

The Jazz, who played in Denver Friday night, head back on the road to play at Minnesota Monday night before playing Denver at home Wednesday night.

GAME NOTES: In honor of long-time Jazz announcer Hot Rod Hundley, who died Friday, Jazz players wore a black stripe on the left shoulders of their jerseys . . . Before the game there was a brief ceremony in the arena honoring Hundley including a moment of silence . . . Steve Novak, who was traded to OKC with Kanter, got some cheers when he entered the game late in the first half. He went scoreless in nine minutes.