This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It was a theory before the game. But as the Oklahoma City Thunder exploited and then shredded the Jazz, the theory moved closer toward fact.
Nearly two-thirds of the way through the 2010-11 season, the Thunder are the elite team in the Northwest Division.
Oklahoma City outshot and outexecuted Utah on Saturday, picking up a convincing 121-105 victory at EnergySolutions Arena.
And after the Thunder shot 61.9 percent (13 of 21) behind the 3-point line, 56.6 percent (43 of 76) from the field, and overcame a 13-point first-quarter deficit, everyone from Jazz coach Jerry Sloan to All-Star guard Deron Williams said the same thing.
The Thunder are clicking, while Utah is still trying to find its way.
"They have a terrific team," Sloan said. "I thought they were a terrific team last year. They played the [NBA champion] Lakers in a tough series. Young guys that are just getting better and better. They know what they're doing. They know how to play with each other. And they really are a terrific team."
The terrific Thunder (33-17) eclipsed a hot start by the Jazz (30-22). Utah hit its first 11 field goals while Paul Millsap (game-high 34 points) knocked down 9 of his initial 10 shots.
Then Oklahoma City took over. Consistently destroying the Jazz in pick-and-roll and one-on-one sets, the Thunder often appeared too athletic and diverse for Utah to match.
Oklahoma City moved to 2-1 against Utah this season, with both wins coming on the Jazz's home court. In addition, the Thunder hold a four-game divisional lead over third-place Utah, which fell behind Denver again with the defeat.
The Jazz have either won or shared the Northwest Division title during two of the last three seasons. But with 30 games to go this year, the crown currently belongs to the Thunder.
"It's a division game. We know how important it is," said Oklahoma City forward and NBA-leading scorer Kevin Durant, who was held to 21 points on 7-of-17 shooting. "This team is very tough at home. We always fight, have battles with them every game we play them. It was a fun game."
Williams struck at the core of the Thunder's "fun."
Utah's captain said that Oklahoma City's roster has been intact for several years. During that time, the Thunder have gone from a combined 121 defeats during 2007-09 to the top of the division in just three seasons. And the at-times superhuman talent that is Durant now has a perfect complement in surging point guard Russell Westbrook, who scored a team-high 33 points, dished out 10 assists and sank all four of his 3s.
Sloan said that Westbrook has become a special, eye-popping talent. Meanwhile, Williams said that Oklahoma City has ascended to a new level as its young talent has bloomed and packed on years while wearing the same uniform.
Asked if the Thunder are clicking more than the Jazz as everything from playoff seeding to home-court advantage creeps into the conversation, Williams said yes.
"They're probably going to execute a little bit better and play a little bit better together as opposed to us," Williams said.
He added: "We're down, what, four games? We've got to go on a run, play better. … We haven't played our best basketball. We haven't played together as a team for 48 minutes."
Thunder 121, Jazz 105
R In short • The Jazz fall to the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-105 Saturday at home.
Key stat • Oklahoma City shoots 61.9 percent (13 of 21) behind the 3-point line.
Key moment • The Thunder turn a five-point halftime advantage into an 11-point lead midway through the third period.