SALT LAKE CITY — Finding rhythm on offense felt a little like trying to start a car on a cold winter morning for the Utah Jazz in the first half against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Every time the Jazz tried to turn the key, that offensive engine coughed and sputtered.
The good news for Utah is once it warmed up, that offensive engine picked up enough speed to turn the tables on the Thunder. The Jazz rallied from 17 down late in the second quarter and pulled away late in the third to secure a 98-81 victory over Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.
Guard Alec Burks scored 20 points and collected a career-high 14 rebounds while center Enes Kanter chipped in 16 points and 15 boards to help fuel Utah’s comeback. Guard Trey Burke added 17 points for the Jazz shot 51.1 percent from the field (23-of-45) in the second half.
“We didn’t have any energy,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “Anywhere you can find it. That’s what we told them. Look under a rock. Look at each other. Anywhere you can find some juice, try to find it.”
Guard Jeremy Lamb had 19 points to lead the Thunder (3-9), who lost for the sixth time in seven road games this season. Oklahoma City played short-handed with six players sitting out because of injuries.
The Thunder struggled to do much right offensively for both halves. Oklahoma City shot just 35.7 percent from the floor (30-of-84) in blowing a double digit first-half lead.
“It comes down to us being able to execute on both ends for 48 minutes,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “There’s not a lot of room for error. Guys understand that, but we have to be able to execute on the court.”
Nothing went right on offense for the Jazz in the first quarter. Utah shot just 6-for-18 (33.3 percent) from the floor and never led at any point during the quarter. The Jazz set a season low for first-quarter points, scoring just 14, and were held without a field goal over a 4 1/2 minute stretch during the quarter.
It helped Oklahoma City carve out a large lead despite its own offensive struggles. The Thunder were 9-of-23 (39.1 percent) from the floor, but jumped out to a 23-12 lead with 1:07 left in the quarter when reserve center Kendrick Perkins dunked the ball to cap an 8-1 spurt.
Oklahoma City led by as many as 17 points early in the second quarter, going up 39-22 on a basket from center Steven Adams with 6:03 left before halftime.
The Jazz finally came to life on both ends of the court over the remaining six minutes.
Utah hit 9-of-10 free throws over a four-minute stretch to cut the deficit to single digits. Then, center Enes Kanter, made a pair of baskets and a pair of free throws in the final minute of the quarter to bring the Jazz within a basket.
“When a team is struggling to score, we can’t give them easy points,” Brooks said. “Those are free points and we have to do a better job of handling it.”
Oklahoma City made just one basket over the final 6:03, allowing Utah to close the half on an 18-3 run and make it 42-40 at halftime.
Trailing by only a basket after struggling so much offensively really gave the Jazz confidence they could make things go differently in the second half.
“It opened up the whole floor collectively,” Burke said. “When guys get into the paint and make plays, that opens up guys on the perimeter. Everyone tonight was ready to shoot. The most important thing is we saw the ball go into the rim. That gave everybody confidence.”
The Jazz got over the hump midway through the third quarter, taking their first lead at 53-52 on a layup from Hayward. Utah put some distance between itself and Oklahoma City heading into the fourth quarter. Starting with a dunk from Rudy Gobert to break a 57-57 tie, the Jazz went on a 23-4 run over a six minute stretch spanning the third and fourth quarter.
Dante Exum capped the decisive spurt with back-to-back 3-pointers, giving Utah a 80-61 lead with 9:21 remaining.
“We got stops,” Burks said. “It gave us a chance to run and make easy plays for each other and that’s what we did.”
NOTES: Utah went 1-3 vs. Oklahoma City last season. In the team’s lone win over the Thunder on Jan. 7, 2014, Jazz F Gordon Hayward recorded a career-high 37 points and added 11 rebounds and seven assists. … Thunder F Serge Ibaka has become a greater deep threat this season. Entering the Jazz game, Ibaka made 20 3-pointers in 11 games after making only 25 during the 2013-14 season. He went 1-of-3 from distance versus Utah. … Tuesday’s game marks the start of Oklahoma City’s fourth back-to-back stretch in three weeks. All eight games have been road contests. … Utah is currently the only NBA team playing three rookies more than 14 minutes per game this season — Dante Exum (18.9 minutes), Joe Ingles (15.5) and Rodney Hood (15.2).
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