SALT LAKE CITY -- Moving deliberately and carefully, Kevin Durant took his time getting dressed in the locker room. Just one game into an 82-game season, he's already nursing a collection of bruises.
The 6-foot-9 forward has added muscle each year to his slender frame for nights like this when his body hit the floor nearly a dozen times.
"Yeah, I love it," Durant said with a smile after scoring 22 of his 42 points from the free throw line, including a pair with 6.4 seconds remaining, to lift the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 101-98 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.
"I just tried to be aggressive and I think my teammates put me in great positions to be aggressive. I need to finish some of those 'and-1s' and make more shots," Durant said.
The perennial MVP candidate made 22 of 24 free throws, just two off his career high, but was only 9 for 24 from the floor.
Reggie Jackson scored 14 points and had two clutch free throws of his own with 10.5 seconds to play. Thabo Sefolosha also had 14 points for the Thunder in this hard-fought game against the rebuilding Jazz.
"It's very difficult to win on the road," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "Utah is going to be a good team. They've got a lot of good young players but I thought our guys battled."
Gordon Hayward had a chance to tie the game for the Jazz but missed a long 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
Alec Burks had 19 of his 24 points in the second half for Utah and closed the gap to 99-98 on a dunk after Hayward came up with the ball in a mad scramble with 10 seconds left.
Oklahoma City led 79-64 before Burks began slicing through the Thunder defense for an array of acrobatic shots. In a span bridging the third and fourth quarter, the third-year reserve guard scored 13 of Utah's 15 points and assisted on the other basket.
"That's how I play. I've never shied away from being aggressive," Burks said.
Journeyman Mike Harris sank all three free throws after Durant fouled him on a desperation shot to beat the shot clock to cut Oklahoma City's lead to 86-83. After another Durant free throw, Harris dunked to bring Utah within two.
Harris, the last man to make the 15-man roster, drew the challenge of guarding Durant and tried to get physical with him. A couple minutes after hitting a jumper to draw Utah within three points, Harris fouled out with 2:58 to play.
"Durant is a great player. Coach told me before the game to get physical and make every shot difficult," said Harris, who had 13 points.
The Jazz trailed 95-92 when Burks had his pass stolen by Durant, who was in turn knocked to the floor by Favors. Slowing rising back to his feet with the help of teammates, Durant scowled at the Jazz players who inflicted so many hard hits on opening night.
Although Oklahoma City posted the best record in the Western Conference last season, the Thunder were uncertain how well their offense would run without Russell Westbrook, who is expected to miss the first month of the season after two knee surgeries, and reliable scorer Kevin Martin, who was signed as free agent by Minnesota.
Jackson and Sefolosha acquitted themselves well but the Thunder had little success inside and recorded just nine assists. The Jazz outscored Oklahoma City 56 to 32 in the paint.
"Any win is a good win and I don't want to downplay it, but we have to get a lot better," Durant said.
"There were a lot of positives, a lot to build off of tonight," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said, while also lamenting Utah's 22 turnovers and 10 missed free throws. "We will grow into the position. We will get better."
Favors, who is not accustomed to attracting so much defensive attention, is now a focal point of the Jazz offense. Several times he found cutters whose defenders came to double the big forward and recorded a career-high five assists, but also forced passes and committed six turnovers.
Like the Thunder, the Jazz have their own uncertainties at the point with lottery pick Trey Burke shelved for a couple months as he recovers from surgery on his fractured right index finger.
Thunder center Hasheem Thabeet was suspended for the opener after head-butting New Orleans' Greg Stiemsma in a preseason game. . The Thunder were whistled for three technical fouls for touching the ball after it went through the hoop, a point of emphasis this year. . Oklahoma City led by as many as 15 points in the second half and outscored Utah on fast break points, 25-14.
- Eric Lewis
- Dan Crawford
- Kevin Scott