13 February 2012
This game had a “big game” feel to it. Utah was riding an ugly three game losing streak which included a Jeremy Lin/Jared Jeffries beat down in NY, a failed comeback attempt in Indiana and a demoralizing defeat at home handed out by league leaders Oklahoma City. Tonight’s game kicked off the Jazz’s only back-to-back-to-back of the season, and let’s be honest, a real possibility of doubling that nasty losing streak to six. Insanity is the definition of doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.
A shakeup was in order. A new routine. A lineup change. Something, anything. And that’s just what Coach Ty Corbin did. However, this wouldn’t be the break in formation you’d be thinking.
Earlier in the day, the Salt Lake Tribune posted an interesting article on a team unifying, chemistry building field trip. Ty took the guys to the National Civil Rights Museum to shake things up a bit and take advantage of a much needed off day (in preparation for three games in three nights). As I read about this experience, it felt like the team had come to a crossroads and was struggling to know who they are and what they want to be. Taking a break from the daily grind to learn, to focus the senses on topics and events that helps one gain perspective can be just what the doctor ordered.
My opinion? The Jazz team that took the floor tonight resembled a rebirth, a phoenix from the ashes of a team struggling to find an identity. They looked rejuvenated. They worked hard. Sure, they made mistakes. But they adapted. They relied on some hard-nosed defense coupled with a surprising visit from an in-rhythm Gordon Hayward. And Al Jefferson? My goodness, what a fantastic performance. Raja “I owe you a million apologies” Bell made clutch shot after clutch shot. Ball movement was as good as it had been all season long.
I’m not going to bore you with statistics or try to prove something special happened tonight by overloading this piece with numbers and hyphens. Tonight’s 98-88 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies was a “feel-good” victory. In many ways, this game could’ve been one of the season’s biggest. Utah had come in, as mentioned, on a three game slide, and had lost 5 of 7 in February. Let’s also not forget that ugly elephant in the room: The Jazz had only been victorious outside the friendly confines of Energy Solutions Arena twice this season (at Golden State and at Denver). Not to mention, Utah seems to shy from the national TV spotlight, having only won once this season on that stage. With an all important three games in three nights (all on the road) looming, tonight sets the tempo for who this team thinks they are.
Had Utah lost tonight, the losing streak jumps to four and no doubt dampens the mood for the remainder of the trip. Now? Utah holds its collective head high, grabbing a vital road win that in my mind felt truly (dare I say?) inspired. Yes, Ty Corbin is finding his way as not only a head coach in this league but is a shining example of a leader in its truest form. Coaches teach. Leaders inspire. Ty is still young, but quickly proving he can do both.
I can’t say what the next two games hold. But when a confident Gordon Hayward goes for a team high 23 points on 8-12 shooting, 5 assists and 2 steals OUT OF NOWHERE, then that’s a good sign. When Al Jefferson drops 21 on 10-17 FG, 15 boards with 4 (!!!) assists, that’s a good sign. When Raja Bell is knocking down clutch threes late in games for daggers, that’s a good sign. And when your team scores 30 points off 18 forced turnovers, you KNOW that’s a good sign. Also, I guess I lied about sharing stats. Couldn’t help myself. Those guys particularly were absolutely impressive tonight on both ends.
Something felt different for me tonight. It was an ugly, scrappy game, but as our friend Dustin (@prodigal_punk) points out, those are games that favor this Jazz team. Utah muddied up the game early and enforced that things weren’t going to come easy for Memphis. Deflections, challenged shots and solid rotations set the tone for a Utah-type game. While the Jazz did struggle to secure quite a few defensive rebounds (giving up 18 OREB to Memphis), Utah countered with their own gritty effort, nabbing 13 of their own to somewhat even the balance. Overall, this felt like a solid win for a team in desperate need of some positivity. Sounds to me like more “field trips” are in order, Coach.
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