Sparks fly despite hefty Utah Jazz lead vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

NBA


SALT LAKE CITY — With the Oklahoma City Thunder in full desperation mode, the first six minutes of Game 4 were downright heated, and even in an eventual blowout, didn’t slow up much from there.

The Utah Jazz handled business 113-96 to take a 3-1 series lead behind 33 points from Donovan Mitchell, but there was plenty of extracurricular activity as a total of seven technical fouls called, and one almost inevitable ejection. The tone was set back on Saturday after Game 3 when Russell Westbrook guaranteed he was going to shut down Ricky Rubio.

“This is the playoffs. It’s going to be war,” Rubio said. “You’re playing seven games and you’ve got to win four. We know that it’s going to be another war next game and we just need to be tough but at the same time mentally ready for that. We’re not backing down but at the same time we know we have to be ready for a fight and respond.”

Paul George picked up a technical early for shoving Joe Ingles, Steven Adams got one for slapping away Rudy Gobert‘s arm, Quin Snyder for arguing a call, Ingles one for bumping George and Raymond Felton and Gobert picked up double technicals during a light skirmish.

Finally, it boiled over in the fourth quarter as Jae Crowder and Carmelo Anthony got into it, with Crowder hitting Adams with an elbow to the jaw. Crowder was assessed a technical and ejected.

“It’s basketball. It’s the playoffs,” Jazz forward Derrick Favors said. “Guys get physical doing certain things. As long as you don’t hurt yourself and don’t do anything crazy, just got to keep your composure and get on to the next play sometimes.”

Both teams strained to make sure to not say anything notable about the physicality, doing their best to avoid any bulletin board material heading into Game 5.

“Every game has been physical,” Gobert said. “At the end of the day it’s basketball and even if you try to do something else, we’re just going to keep playing basketball.”

Speaking of bulletin board material, Westbrook tried to hold up his guarantee right from tipoff, picking Rubio up full court and digging deep into a defensive stance — even clapping his hands — on the first possession. Westbrook’s hyper-aggressiness backfired on him, though, as he picked up four fouls in the first half — all on Rubio — as he attempted to crank up the intensity.

“It’s not about me and him,” Westbrook said when asked about his approach to guarding Rubio. “Let’s get past that. We’re done with that.”

With Westbrook forced to the sideline with a minute left in the second quarter, the Jazz finished the half strong and opened up 12-2 in the third as Westbrook was clearly neutralized with the foul issues.

“We just stayed within ourselves,” said Mitchell, who topped Karl Malone for the most ever by a Jazz rookie in a playoff game. “We always say the strength of our team is the strength of our team. I said this morning we’re not really worried about one individual comment. I think if we get caught up in that it takes us out of our own game and our play showed tonight that we really just focused on each other and made the right plays when we needed to.”



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