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Durant’s free throws lift Thunder over Jazz in season-opening win

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OKLAHOMA CITY – While the Oklahoma City Thunder count down the days until the return of Russell Westbrook to the court, the team took on the Utah Jazz in a down-to-the wire season opener.

Reggie Jackson stepped in to Westbrook’s starting spot, scoring 14 points, five steals and three assists on the night.

The Thunder barely out-rebounded the Jazz, totaling 45 rebounds to Utah’s 44, but Utah turned the ball over 22 times, 9 more times than Oklahoma City.

Despite turning the ball over, the Jazz outscored Oklahoma City in the paint, getting 56 points to OKC’s 32.

However, analysts are crediting the Thunder’s big man for sealing the win.

Kevin Durant scored 42 points on the night but 22 of those points came from the free throw line.

He was only 9 for 24 from the floor.

The Thunder defense is also credited with capitalizing on the mistakes made by the Jazz’s offense.

With six seconds left in the first half, Utah’s John Lucas III airballed a 3-point attempt, which was caught by Kendrick Perkins.

Perk passed the ball to Thabo Sefolosha, who hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Thunder a 57-48 lead at halftime.

In fact, Oklahoma City led by 15 points in the second half.

Mike Harris was in charge of guarding Durant but fouled out with 2:58 left in the game.

However, the Jazz fought its way back to get within just a point three times in the fourth quarter but could not manage to get the game tied.

Down 90-89,  Utah’s Lucas turned the ball over by stepping out of bounds during a drive.

With just seconds left on the clock, Durant sank two foul shots to give the Thunder the 101-98 edge.

Utah’s Gordon Hayward had the chance to tie it up but missed a long 3-pointer to seal the game for the Thunder.

Experts say despite the win, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks will likely have a talk with his players about technical fouls.

The Thunder were called for four delay of games in the first half, three of those counted as technical fouls.

Oklahoma City is now focused on defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.