After watching one of the most improbable wins I have ever see from the Utah Jazz, I needed a day to let it really sink in.
“Did they truly just beat the Denver Nuggets on the road, without Memo and AK47, starting Kyrylo Fesenko, and playing Othyus Jeffers?”
Of course the answer to that detailed question was yes, but HOW did they do it under those circumstances?
First off, I want to give credit to Jerry Sloan for rallying the troops and getting them to play hard throughout the contest. This team could have rolled over and died after that letdown in Game 1, but that was not going to fly for Jerry. He clearly motivated Deron Williams in some miraculous way, and he even had a good gameplan for limiting Carmelo’s effectiveness. Do you think he, and the rest of the Nuggets for that matter, have that many charges called on them if the Jazz didn’t prepare for it properly?
Another reason why the Jazz were able to even up the series was because of their ability to knock down clutch free throws. In the last 25 seconds, the Jazz went to the charity stripe 6 times, and they were successful every single time. As each guy walked up to the line, I could only imagine the pressure that they were feeling. In fact, I wouldn’t have been surprised if CJ Miles, Deron Williams, or Kyle Korver missed either or both of their free throws in crunch time. But they sucked it up, stared pressure in the face, and they sank the shots calmly. It is that kind of mental toughness that you need to be a winning team in the postseason, and the Jazz saw that directly in Game 2, as free throws essentially won them the game.
Where would the Jazz have been in Game 2 without the hot start by D-Will? Williams set the tone for the Jazz, as he was hitting everything that he was putting up, and he gave the Jazz the hope that they needed coming out of the gate. Had he not done that, the doubts would have started kicking in early, and the Jazz would have stumbled through the game all the way to the finish. If I had to sum up D-Will’s start in a quote it would be: “Hey, we’re not going anywhere until you make us!” Because the Jazz showed some backbone, the Nuggets definitely lost that air of confidence that they were feeling after the Game 1 victory. Thanks, Deron.
In addition, D-Will’s partner in crime, Carlos Boozer, also played a big role in Utah’s victory. Specifically in the 2nd quarter, Boozer started piling up the baskets, and he helped keep Utah’s shooting percentage way up. Once Williams started getting defended tighter, he needed another option to depend on, and Boozer was there so many times. I don’t even want to think about where the Jazz would be without this guy playing. Oh yeah, and he had 15 of Utah’s 32 rebounds in the game. Just thought I should mention that.
How can you forget the much-needed lift that Kyle Korver (or as I like to call him: Automatic Ashton) gave the Jazz off the bench? Not only did Korver hit a few huge shots for Utah when they were struggling to score, but Korver came up with the biggest shot of the series thus far, when he stuck a 3-pointer to give the Jazz a 108-106 lead with less than 90 seconds remaining. Can this guy please play a bigger role in the offense?
I also want to give big ups to the doe himself, CJ Miles. There were a few plays down the stretch where I thought that Miles was single-handedly going to be responsible for the Jazz losing this game, but he did not fold. In the last 3:43, Miles had 6 points, including 2 enormous free throws. For Miles to show such great resolve was very encouraging, as the Jazz have very few players that they can truly trust. Now that Miles has proven he can play big in the big spot, the Jazz can breathe a little easier.
Finally, the biggest reason why the Jazz were able to come away with the victory in Game 2 was because of the lack of production by the Nuggets’ bench; specifically JR Smith. Smith, who was Utah’s killer in Game 1 (even more so than Carmelo, in my opinion), was ice cold from the field, as he shot 3-10 with a total of 9 points. Because Smith was not hitting the game-changing shots like he did in Game 1, the momentum never took a full shift towards the Nuggets. Sure, there were points in the game when I thought that the Nuggets had it locked up, but they never hit that knockout punch that really made the Jazz crumble.
Another bench guy who did relatively nothing for Denver in Game 2 was Ty Lawson. Lawson has given the Jazz trouble all season long, including his 11 points in Game 1. In Game 2, though, Lawson was not a threat offensively, as he had just 3 points, which all came from the free throw line. Heck, he didn’t even attempt a field goal in over 13 minutes of action.
Everybody knows that bench production in the NBA Playoffs is always a huge advantage for the home team because that is when role players usually step up. That did not hold true for the Nuggets, as the Jazz bench outscored them 33-20. By the way, 18 of those 33 bench points came from Paul Millsap, who played his role very nicely. He didn’t force too many things, and he allowed the game to come to him. It is a game like that, that had so many people lobbying for ‘Sap as the 6th Man of The Year.
If the Jazz get complacent after this victory, they will not have many more to celebrate by the time this series is over. However, if they continue to believe that they DO deserve to win this series, and they know that they can, the Jazz can actually take control of this series. If you look at the overall body of work by the two teams in the first two games, you would have to give the advantage to the Jazz in the sense that they had so much to overcome with injuries and being on the road, yet they go back home with the series knotted up at 1 apiece. Even if the Jazz were fully healthy, a split in Denver would have been considered a huge victory for them. The only question that still has me concerned is: “Will the Jazz have enough gas in the tank to survive?”
Well, based on the way that they answered that question in Game 2, my answer is not going to be a quick “no” this time around.