This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Jazz stepped out of the home locker room at EnergySolutions Arena for the last time before a well-earned break.
Al Jefferson nursed a boxer's headache, brought on by repeated blows to the scalp.
A young girl asked to have her photo taken with DeMarre Carroll, whose canary pants and matching eyeglasses belied the fierceness he utilized in a nose-to-nose confrontation an hour earlier with Kevin Durant.
Not an All-Star among them, they headed for an airplane to Minnesota, leaving behind a stunning 109-94 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder (39-13) as lights and baskets were lowered; as workers picked up trash, preparing for a monster truck showcase three nights later. Dismantling the scene of the dismantling.
"I think that's the biggest game of the year for us," point guard Earl Watson said.
At least, it was impressive, overcoming 33 points from Durant and blowing out a team that managed to shoot 55 percent from the floor. At most, it was a critical piece to the development and playoff hopes of an enigmatic team.
"We talked about finishing strong," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We didn't want to just back into the All-Star break ... We wanted to play our way into and play our way into the best record we could have at that point."
After entering the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead, they went on an 18-4 run to add to the satisfaction.
The Jazz are 29-24, and have now defeated Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Miami arguably the three best teams in the NBA at home. In those 24 losses, however, are head-scratching displays including Saturday's loss at Sacramento, and Friday's to the Chicago Bulls.
But a win over the Thunder does as much for erasing short-term memory as a Kendrick Perkins elbow to the skull, a subject in which Jefferson is now expert. Perkins was tagged with a flagrant foul, one of two for the Thunder, as well as a technical. A slap after Jefferson stripped the ball in the first quarter left Jefferson on his back holding his nose.
"When you step on the court with him," Jefferson said of his former Boston teammate, "you know it's going to be a physical. There ain't no soft in him nowhere."
Jefferson answered Perkins' arsenal of defensive maneuvers to lead the Jazz with 23 points. Paul Millsap added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and winked at a triple-double by adding 6 assists.
Six players reached double figures, including 15 from Derrick Favors, as well as 13 from both Carroll and Alec Burks.
The Jazz scored 28 points on 20 Oklahoma City turnovers. And while the Jazz committed 18 turnovers, eight were in the fourth quarter once Corbin had emptied the Jazz bench.
But the numbers don't show the toughness the Jazz showed.
"We wanted to make sure everybody felt us all night," Corbin said.
They outrebounded the Thunder 38-22, and outscored them 18-4 on second-chance points.
Ask Durant about that. The NBA's scoring leader took out Alec Burks on a fast-break with 6:06 left in the game, a full body slam that merited the Thunder's second flagrant foul and the first of Durant's career. A brief scrum ensued, resulting in double technical fouls on Carroll and Durant.
"If you're going to play dirty," Carroll said he told Durant, "play dirty in the park."
Carroll said Durant was frustrated, and who could blame him? The Thunder had won four straight games by 21 or more points. At one point in the fourth quarter, they trailed the Jazz by 21.
"We made some bonehead plays, Durant said, "I know I did."
Jazz at Minnesota
P At Target Center (Minneapolis)
Tipoff • Wednesday,6 p.m. MST
TV • ROOT
Radio • 1280 AM, 1600 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 29-24; Timberwolves 19-30
Season series • Jazz, 1-0
Last meeting • Jazz, 106-84 (Nov. 30)
About the Jazz • They are 5-8 on the second night of back-to-back games, including 0-3 on the road. ... They have lost two straight in Minnesota, going back to last season. ... Neither G Mo Williams (thumb) nor G/F Gordon Hayward will play. ... Hayward scored a team-high 17 points in their early-season win over Minnesota.
About the Timberwolves • They are 4-16 since losing F Kevin Love for at least 10 weeks because of a broken hand. ... They are coming off a 100-92 win at Cleveland. ... G Luke Ridnour scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter against the Cavs. ... Ex-Jazz F Andrei Kirilenko averages 13.3 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Storylines Jazz 109, Thunder 94
R Six players reach double figures in what Earl Watson calls the Jazz's "biggest game of the year."
• Kevin Durant scores 33 points but is called for the first flagrant foul of his career.
• The Thunder had won four straight games by 21 or more points.