'The thing I love about Dennis...': Schroder stars in Thunder rout of Jazz, even in reserve role
SALT LAKE CITY — Vivint Smart Home Arena vibrated with the boos. The Jazz fans jeered at Dennis Schroder, from the rafters to the floor. He strolled to the free-throw line.
Schroder was ruining the Jazz’s night. The speedy, blue headband-clad guard had been disrupting Utah on both ends of the floor all game, in what would become a 104-90 Thunder win over the Jazz.
This was the last straw.
Set up just inside the 3-point line late in the third quarter, Schroder noticed Jazz Emmanuel Mudiay closing in from behind. Schroder left the floor and contorted in the air as he threw up a shot, drawing contact from Mudiay as he did. The whistle blew. Two shots.
The boos began as Schroder pushed himself up. They intensified as the replay flashed on the massive screens hanging above the court. Mudiay pleaded his case to the nearest official.
Schroder made both free throws, on his way to 27 points.
The Thunder (11-12) outscored the Jazz (13-11) in bench points 45-23 Monday, with a massive boost from Schroder. He made 11 of his 21 shots to lead all scorers. The Thunder improved to 2-0 halfway through a four-game road trip.
“It’s probably not talked about enough, how selfless Dennis is,” OKC point guard Chris Paul said. “Dennis is a starter in this league, on just about any other team. But he’s a star in his role, and that’s why our bench is so good.”
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Schroder had already scored 20 points when he stepped to the free throw line and gave the Thunder an 82-65 lead with 2:10 left in the third quarter. Two possessions later, Schroder drained a deep 3-pointer to give the Thunder a 20-point lead, two points shy of the Thunder’s largest advantage of the night.
Brimming with confidence, he took another deep shot on the next possession, this one from just a step in from the Vivint logo on the right side of the court. He missed, but with the way he had been shooting, that was almost a surprise.
“That was a heat check, to be honest,” Schroder said, stifling a laugh.
But Schroder’s offense wasn’t the part of his game that Thunder coach Billy Donovan wanted to focus on after the game.
“The thing I love about Dennis is that guys brings it on defense,” Donovan said. “He really tries to guard, and I don’t worry about necessarily the size. Like he was on (forward Bojan) Bogdanovic, he was on (point guard Donovan) Mitchell. He guarded everybody tonight, at least for a few possessions. So, that to me is what’s impressive. The extra scoring is great, but he really tried to defend.”
Schroder passed on what he learned about guarding Bogdanovic to Abdel Nader, who made his third start of the season on Monday.
“It’s the simple things that go a long way,” Nader said, “Like being able to shoot under some of those screens because he’s not just going to come off and shoot it running full speed.”
So, by the end of the third quarter, Jazz fans were ready to make their frustration with Schroder known. But he wasn’t going away.