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Thunder beat Jazz 98-89 to sweep season series

By JOHN COONMarch 12, 2019
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Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, bottom, battles for the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder's Abdel Nader, right, and Markieff Morris, top, in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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Utah Jazz forward Royce O'Neale, bottom, battles for the ball against Oklahoma City Thunder's Abdel Nader, right, and Markieff Morris, top, in the first half during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 11, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook got into a heated verbal altercation with fans. The All-Star guard ended up having the last word on the court.

Westbrook had 23 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 98-89 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night. Dennis Schroder led the way with 24 points to help the Thunder sweep the season series.

An altercation between Westbrook and a pair of Jazz fans in the stands took place early in the second quarter after what he felt was a racial taunt. According to the Thunder guard, they told him to “get down on my knees like I used to.” Westbrook was caught on video cursing at a fan and threatening him and his wife.

Westbrook expressed concern following the game at the verbal abuse he and teammates have received from fans on the road. He said he is done tolerating their disrespect.

“There’s got to be something done,” Westbrook said. “There’s got to be some consequences for those type of people that come to the game just to say and do whatever they want to say. I don’t think it’s fair to the players.”

Jazz security issued multiple warning cards and the team said in a postgame statement that it will be investigating the exchange between Westbrook and fans.

“Players and fans have a shared responsibility to create a safe and respectful environment,” the Jazz statement said. “If it is determined that any fans violated the NBA Code of Conduct, appropriate action will be taken.”

The fan said in a TV interview that neither he nor his wife cursed at Westbrook.

Paul George chipped in 14 points and 11 rebounds for Oklahoma City. Steven Adams and Jerami Grant added 12 points apiece.

Westbrook took over after the Jazz rallied in the fourth quarter. Royce O’Neale cut the deficit to 89-83 on a pair of 3-pointers. Utah didn’t get any closer. Westbrook scored back-to-back baskets as part of a 9-1 run that put the Thunder up 98-84 with 1:32 remaining.

“We did a great job of just competing,” Schroder said. “Defensively and offensively. Just having fun, going back to our identity.”

Donovan Mitchell scored 25 points for Utah, which shot just 36 percent from the field. O’Neale added 17 points while Rudy Gobert had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

The Jazz held an opponent under 100 points for the 19th time this season, but could never get on track offensively.

“We really worked our tails off defensively, particularly in the half-court,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “When we’re not able to convert, it puts a lot of pressure on our defense. There are a number of things we can try and improve on, but I like how we competed on the defensive end. The offense will come.”

Starting with second-chance baskets from Adams and Grant, the Thunder scored field goals on five straight possessions to take a 22-14 lead late in the first quarter. O’Neale and Crowder finally stemmed the run with back-to-back 3-pointers.

Oklahoma City ran off 10 unanswered points and took its first double-digit lead at 40-29 on a pair of free throws from Westbrook with 3:42 remaining in the half. Adams also made a pair of hook shots to help fuel the spurt.

Utah trimmed the Thunder lead to 60-55 late in the third quarter when Mitchell scored a finger roll layup. Oklahoma City pulled away a second time and took its largest lead at 80-63 on a 3-pointer from Abdel Nader early in the fourth quarter.

“We self-induced some of their runs,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “We had some opportunities in transition that we turned the ball over. We got lost a couple of times in transition defense and gave some open 3s. We had some breakdowns, and some of our offense led to them getting back.”

THREE TROUBLE

The Jazz shot just 30 percent from the perimeter. As a team, Utah shot 43 3-pointers, which composed nearly 50 percent of its total field goal attempts. Even with such a high volume, the Jazz believed they were the right shots to take.

“I’ll take it. Every night,” Mitchell said. “Because when they fall, they fall, you know they’re open looks. It’s not like we’re taking step-back 3s ... we’re taking good shots and they’re going to fall.”

SURGING SCHRODER

Schroder finished with at least 20 points for the 16th time this season. With 24 points, he collected two more points than the entire Jazz bench.

Many of Schroder’s baskets came in key stretches in the second half when the Jazz rallied.

“Dennis kind of quieted things for us and gave us a little bit of breathing room in some of those situations,” Donovan said.

TIP-INS

Thunder: In his three previous games against the Jazz this season, George averaged 39.7 points on 60.6 percent shooting, 8.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. ... Oklahoma City finished with a 15-8 edge in fast-break points.

Jazz: Dante Exum returned to action after missing 25 games with a left ankle sprain and bone bruise. Exum was scoreless with three assists in 15 minutes. ... The Jazz scored 23 points off 16 Thunder turnovers.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Host Brooklyn on Wednesday.

Jazz: Visit Phoenix on Wednesday.

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