I’ve got nothing left.
Literally. 10:20 p.m., there I was sprawled on the ground like I’d just been desperately trying to leave a DaVinci code; face sweating, heart pounding, nail fragments spewed all around me. Yeah, this is what it takes to be a Jazz fan this year.
For cripes sakes, they had a 14-point lead and looked smooth as ever heading into the fourth quarter. I actually tweeted (yes, dammit I tweet … and I have two followers – no joke) that the Jazz looked “terrific” and that Hayward deserved “sophomore of the year” awards. Man-oh-man. About 15 minutes later I corrected myself: “Spoke too soon. Kings making a run.”
Sacramento, for whatever reason, plays Utah with a nasty chip on their shoulder. What are they mad at? It can’t be that 1999 playoff series in which John Stockton sunk the game winner that essentially allowed an ailing Jazz squad to squeeze by the heavily favored Kings, can it? Come on guys, that was 13 years ago! Let it go. You still won the championsh – oh, wait.
No matter. Sacramento pushed and shoved their way to a close contest down the stretch, but likewise pushed and shoved their way out of what probably should’ve been a win. Not to discredit the Jazz, I thought they played a solid game despite running into a colder-than-Alaska’s-mother-in-December stretch during which they shot just 1-of-15 from the field in the final period. Utah had good looks – Hayward missed a few wide open threes, as did Harris, Miles, and Tinsley. As Kobe would say, “It was almost comical.”
Thank the basketball gods – Sacramento is really stupid.
Shot after shot clanked off the front of the rim for the Kings, many during pivotal moments. Sac-Town’s bigs alternated between stellar play that made them look like Harlem Globetrotters, and horrible decision making that made them look worse than MyPlayer in 2K12 during his rookie season (and believe me he was bad). At one point Jason Thompson clanked two free throws, which resulted in a botched offensive foul and a breakaway score by Utah (nice shot Harris). Too many times players (cough*Cousins*cough) chased after refs instead of concentrating on the game (granted, some of those calls were ridiculous – I blame ref Violet Palmer). In one sequence, Cousins even took a random nose dive into the wall padding beneath the basketball hoop, then shamelessly tried to pawn it off on the nearest defender. Players moaned, groaned, turned the ball over, executed poorly, and then failed to help each other out on either side of the floor.
Here’s a lesson for Sac-Town: if Tyreke Evans is scoring at will, give him the damn ball. Seriously, WTF?
Even so, the Kings kept the game close and even seemed to nail the winning shot off a random, spastic 3-pointer by Marcus Thornton. Except Burks (aka The Man Without Fear) took the ball to the hoop on the next possession ( should’ve drawn a foul) and dropped in a remarkably, twisted layup to give the Jazz a 101-100 edge with 8.3 to go.
On the other end, Thornton hit another presumable game winner, driving past Burks for a high-arcing layup for a 102-101 lead with just 4.1 seconds left on the clock, but Big Al took a pass (or grabbed a rebound off an air ball) from Harris and easily dropped the ball into the net – 103-102, final score.
The Jazz nab their seventh road win of the season, their fifth in a row and improve to 25-22 overall.
They also prove, once again, that sharing the ball down the stretch is better than putting the game in Big Al’s hands (yes, he had a game high 26 points and made the winning shot, but man, he made some silly plays throughout the night – especially during those stupid ISO moments that Corbin insists on calling each game). Harris, Burks, Hayward, Al, and Milsap all contributed during key moments in the fourth quarter. Again, five is better than one.
The funny thing about this game was just how ridiculously important it was for both teams. I understand Utah, but come on Sac-Town, what would you have done with the win?
Utah needed this one so much more.
You can’t beat LA in LA, then OKC two nights later and fall to the Kings. That can’t happen. The Jazz can lose to the Hawks on Sunday (I’m giving them permission), but not the Kings. Not a team that carries a pathetic 17-29 record despite harboring two of the league’s best young guys (Evans, who, with a spectacular 25-point showing looked remarkably similar to LeBron James, both in performance and attitude; and Cousins) … Plus they have Jimmer. I mean, great Odin’s ghost, what else do they need? (Cue Ute fans groaning.)
A Little Help
In truth, elite teams consistently receive a lot of luck during big games – look at LA when Robert Horry hit that final shot against … oh, sorry. No, the Jazz aren’t elite, but they’re playing at a level that obviously pleases the gods. First Ricky Rubio goes down with a horrible injury, thus eliminating one of Utah’s biggest obstacles (IE Minnesota) standing in the way of their playoff hopes, then Rudy Fernandez is forced to exit Denver for possible back surgery (the repercussions of which, I think, are huge) … and now, the Jazz find themselves fortuitous against Sacramento on the road, in a game they would’ve lost by at least a dozen only a month ago. (Those of you who think I’m happy about the injuries, hold your tongues. It sucks for those guys, and I feel their pain, but how many times has LA benefited from a healthy season whilst everyone around them crumbles? How about Miami last year in the playoffs when they only had to contend with a 65-percent healthy Derrick Rose? Injuries suck, but they’re a part of the game. All teams take advantage of another team’s ill-fortune, why can’t the Jazz?)
Maybe destiny calls for Utah to enter the 2012 playoffs – their last chance at the big prize before the world ends, right?
How do you explain Gordon Hayward (18 points, five assists) maturing into one of the most important players on the court? How about Alec Burks’ sudden transformation into a high-flying, chippier version of Wesley Matthews? Or Big Al’s sudden understanding of the passing game? Or Milsap’s resurgence as team leader?
Fate? Or something more – you tell me.
What it comes down to is this: can the Jazz win games they’re supposed to win? The answer, at least tonight, seems to be yes.
Although, the Kings nearly ran away with tonight’s contest.
Too bad they’re kinda stupid.