SALT LAKE CITY - The Oklahoma City Thunder learned a valuable lesson in their season-opening 101-98 win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.
Even in an all-out rebuild, the Jazz are a tough team to beat at home.
Kevin Durant scored 42 points to lead the Thunder to the victory. The forward only shot 9-for-24 from the field, but nailed 22 of 24 free throws, including a key pair with 6.8 seconds remaining.
That helped Oklahoma City escape a night that turned out tougher than many expected.
"It just puts everything in perspective," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "It's hard to win a game, and it's very difficult to win on the road. I thought they (Jazz) fought back and gave themselves a chance to win."
Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson each added 14 points as the Thunder (1-0) won without injured star point guard Russell Westbrook.
Gordon Hayward, the Jazz's only returning starter, had a chance to force overtime. His 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds remaining bounced off the rim.
Guard Alec Burks came off the bench to lead the Jazz (0-1) with 24 points, six rebounds and six assists.
"We fought hard," Burks said. "We had to fight from behind, but we still gave ourselves a chance to win. If we made some shots, we would've won. That's the game."
Sefolosha hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer before halftime, capping a seven-point run that helped Oklahoma City go into the visiting locker room ahead 57-48.
The Thunder opened up a 15-point lead in the third quarter and seemed to be cruising to an easy win.
This new look Jazz, who no longer feature old standbys Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, didn't let them escape without a fight.
Power forward Derrick Favors, Millsap's replacement, scored 15 points with nine rebounds and five assists in his first game since signing a four-year extension worth $47.7 million.
Third-year pro Enes Kanter, the Jazz's starting center, totaled 14 points with 10 rebounds. And offseason acquisition Richard Jefferson scored 10 points in his new starting role in Utah.
"They're learning. We've got some guys in some new spots for themselves in big moments with the ball in their hands," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "They have to learn their way through it. This is who we have, so this is what we have to build with. I thought the effort and the focus was very good."
Hayward struggled from the field, going 4-for-13, but still managed to contribute 12 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals. But he also had four turnovers for the Jazz, who had 22. Favors had six turnovers.
"I know it's an excuse but those are first game. We just have to get better at it," Kanter said of the turnovers. "We can work on those, but the fight we put up out there tonight, that shows that we care."
Burks got the home crowd back into the game with a three-point play that helped Utah turn OKC's 15-point lead into an 86-80 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
The Jazz weren't finished.
Mike Harris, an NBA journeyman who survived the final cut in Utah this preseason, hit three free throws after being fouled beyond the arc by Durant. The 6-foot-6 reserve forward, getting minutes because of Utah's injury situation, cut the Thunder's lead to 87-85 with a dunk midway through the fourth.
In his Jazz debut, Harris scored 13 points with four rebounds before fouling out.
Jackson seemed to turn the tide back in the Thunder's favor with a 3-pointer, but Harris and Hayward helped Utah get within two with consecutive dunks midway through the fourth.
In the end, it was simply too much Durant for the Jazz to handle. The superstar scored 15 points in the fourth quarter.
"Just learn from our mistakes and get better from there. Any win is a good win," said Durant, whose team only shot 40.7 percent. "This league is so tough to win here. Don't want to downplay the win, but we have to get better."
NOTES: Westbrook could return sooner than expected, according to a Yahoo Sports report. Despite having a second surgery on his right knee earlier this month, the point guard is ahead of schedule and might return within two weeks. ... Thunder center Hasheem Thabeet missed the season-opener after being suspended one game for headbutting New Orleans' Greg Stiemsma in the preaseason. ... Utah began the NBA season with just 10 available players. Rookie Trey Burke (finger), Marvin Williams (Achilles heel), Brandon Rush (knee), Jeremy Evans (rotator cuff) and Andris Biedrins are all sidelined with injuries. Burke, the 2013 NCAA player of the year, will be evaluated in early November after having surgery on his fractured right index finger two weeks ago.