Fourth quarter rally sends Thunder past Jazz

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant congratulates guard Dion Waiters after a 3 point shot against the Utah Jazz during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. 

Mark D. Smith/Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Dion Waiters made a game-clinching 3-pointer and the Thunder bench celebrated.

Well, most of them did.

Well, pretty much all of them did. Reggie Jackson didn’t seem thrilled. 

While Oklahoma City needed a fourth-quarter rally to get past Utah 99-94 Friday night, the Thunder world turned. First, OKC got over a two-game losing streak, and second, the team officially shifted in a direction away from Jackson.

Right or wrong, that’s what happened whenWaiters took Jackson’s minutes Friday and then made the 3-pointer with 23 seconds left that helped push the Thunder out of their funk. Now, with six days until they play again, OKC and coach Scott Brooks can make sure everything is just right for the assimilation process. It’s a business week to work Waiters into the mix, get him settled and at the same time create an exit plan for Reggie Jackson.

We knew you well, Reggie. 

The guy who cried after saving the season a year ago in Game 4 against Memphis, was pouting on the bench. The guy who has been an important, third-piece, called a "Max-contract" player and has shown all sorts of ability, was not engaged with his teammates and not standing or involved.

"You can only play five guys," Brooks said."It’s not Dion over Reggie. Dion was playing solid d and competing. He got the minutes tonight. Minutes are earned. Those bench minutes are going to be competitive. I like his pressure and defensive energy. He’s done a good job with that tonight. That’s been a problem for us lately."

Loosely translated to be, "Reggie Jackson wasn’t doing those things." Now, it appears Jackson won’t be doing them. Not for the Thunder, anyway.

Waiters has been with the team for no full practices and for just two shoot-arounds, yet Waiters, not Jackson, or Perry Jones or Jeremy Lamb had apparently earned enough trust to play more than Waiters.

Waiters, not Jackson, was first off the bench. Waiters played 26 minutes. Jackson played 15, less than any player other than Nick Collison and tied for the fewest minutes he’s played in a game this season. Waiters finished 7-of-14 from the field for 15 points. Jackson was two-for-six for five points and no assists. He didn’t play the final 8:13 and said he was not surprised about being out of the game in the final minutes. 

"Nahh. Not at all."

Since the beginning of the season when Jackson said he preferred to be a starter, things haven’t seemed quite right him. His shooting percentage is 42 percent, his lowest total in the past three seasons. He’s shooting 27 percent on 3-pointers after shooting 34 percent a season ago.

When the Thunder traded for Waiters earlier in the week, it seemed as though it was insurance for possibly losing Jackson at the end of the season to free agency. Now, with Waiters becoming the choice over Jackson, it seems difficult to imagine Jackson staying with the Thunder past the trade deadline.

Jackson isn’t a malcontent, but he’s trending in that direction. He just smiled and shook his head and faked a laugh when asked about the last few minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, in the locker adjacent to Jackson, Waiters was smiling – the newest feel-good story of the season. 

"You have to adjust on the fly," Brooks said. "An injured player or trade, and pick up things as quickly as you can."

The adjustment has already led to Lamb sliding out of the rotation and Jones becoming semi-forgotten. A season ago, Brooks was faced with the same situation. The Thunder were questionable at shooting guard, so they brought in Caron Butler, who played extensive minutes immediately, taking Lamb’s playing time.

In the past, the Thunder signed Derek Fisher, who also played immediately. This time it’s Waiters and Brooks didn’t hesitate.

Waiters played the day after joining the team. Not the game after, the game after. 

And while Jackson has continually alienating himself through his words and his play this season, the Waiters’ minutes Wednesday against Sacramento, the Waiters’ minutes Friday against Utah and the Waiters’ 3-pointer in the fourth quarter was a deal closer.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will ultimately determine how this team will fare. But we’re going to see a lot more of Waiters. We may have seen the last of Jackson.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK