Holy Friggin’ 3-pointers and Offensive Rebounds, Batman!
In a game that featured more injury-laden players than defensive stops, and more drama than I care to explain, the Utah Jazz carved out a solid 117-107 victory over the Dwight-less Magic; and in so doing took a one game lead over Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot.
A lot rode on this game tonight. A LOT. Especially with the Suns losing 118-107 to Denver (who clinched a playoff berth) earlier in the evening. Utah took full advantage of the Suns’ horrendous night (Nash had just eight points) and now find themselves in a viable position entering the last two games of the season.
While the outcome may seem overwhelmingly positive, the game allotted many of the same frustrations we fans have endured all season.
Case in point: the 3-point shot.
Utah gave up 45 points from beyond the arc, and allowed three players – Nelson, Anderson and Richardson (Jason) – to scorch them all night. Once again, Corbin’s defensive strategy mirrored former coach Jerry Sloan’s in giving up long bombs in favor of closing down the lane.
As such, Orlando cruised to a relatively easy 36-23 lead to end the first quarter (Richardson put on a magnificent show in the first period – scoring his team’s first nine points, and finishing with 15, though he completely vanished from then on out).
Utah fought back to tie the game at 55 heading into half time thanks to some terrific play from our bench (who outscored Orlando 39-10), and then took a 67-62 lead after DeMarre Carroll dropped in a layup with 8:33 left in the third quarter.
Orlando didn’t relent, but instead doubled their 3-point production, nailing four in the span of four minutes (from Nelson, twice, Redick and Anderson) that gave them an 81-69 advantage and drew some “boos” from the audience (granted, Carlos Boozer might’ve just walked in – he had time after a brief 28-minute night against Dallas).
At this point I had taken two shots of tequila, torn off my shirt, buzzed my hair, and decided to change my name to Don Juan DeMarco (because that’s what you do when the Jazz drop down by double digits to a team that has absolutely no right to make even a single shot against your defense … plus I listened to Bryan Adams’ “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” at least twice earlier in the day).
I was livid. Orlando was killing us from all directions – Big Baby was schooling Favors, Jefferson and Milsap inside; 3-point bombs were dropping from various angles; Anderson and Davis were killing us on the glass. I even looked at my wife (whose expression was a look of fear and panic) and proclaimed: “I’m not feeling a victory.”
But then it happened. The Jazz, down by 12, willed themselves back into another game. First, Favors dropped in a quick deuce, then Devin Harris made a few dribble-drive penetrations (utilizing a nice pump fake that forced the defense into the air, allowing him to hit an easy layup) and BOOM – Utah down by six.
Redick hit a shot on the other end, but Gordy retaliated with a traditional 3-point play; and Harris found Sap streaking towards the basket for an easy dunk – Utah entered the fourth quarter down two.
With eight minutes remaining in regulation, Ryan Anderson hit a running layup to give Orlando a 94-88 advantage. Jefferson and Favors kept the game close, trading off baskets, but Utah couldn’t take the lead. Except with 1:30 left to play, Harris connected with Favors for a sweet jam – 99-98.
Moments later, Anderson’s shocking, painful 3-pointer again put the Magic up by two; and then the refs waved off Milsap’s possible AND-1 (instead calling Q. Richardson for a jersey hold). By this point I started thinking the whole Don Juan thing was a bad idea.
With the game (and possibly the season) on the line, the Jazz turned to the one man I’ve been the hardest on all season: Big Al. The big fella hit a 10-foot jump shot to tie the game at 101 with 21 seconds left on the clock!
On the other end, Harris played terrific defense on Nelson, blocking his final shot attempt and subsequently throwing the game into overtime.
And then Utah went off.
Gordy and Harris both nailed 3-point bombs, and the Jazz’s defense held Orlando to just six points in the extended period. (Corbin must’ve read my angry blog where I ripped the Jazz for not respecting the three, because Orlando couldn’t get a shot off in the final, oh, 10-minutes of the game and instead turned the ball over in an effort to penetrate the lane, or dish off to Big Baby. Can it be? Can it be defense? Bravo!) Utah took a scary situation and turned it into an awe-shucks moment. Seriously. I felt little, if any, tension in that overtime; at least not of the same caliber as I felt during the game.
Utah took control, looked poised and determined. Kinda the way I wished they looked in the first period. Oh well, we all know how the Jazz despise easy victories.
Tonight’s win gives the Jazz a nice one game advantage over the Suns. Which basically means they must win on Tuesday. If Utah loses, they drop into a tie with their Cactus-loving foes – and Phoenix wins the playoff berth by default (unless, of course, G-Pop decides to actually play his starters in the Spurs’ final game against the Suns next Wednesday).
At worst, Utah finishes ninth in the west, perhaps tied with Houston. At best, Utah ties with Denver and nabs the seventh spot (or at least I think this is the best possible solution … I dunno, go ask Wilbon). Any number of things could happen that are both out of the Jazz’s control, and completely in their hands. The easiest thing for our boys in purple and blue … er, blue, green and gold to do would be to beat the Suns, and then Portland.
But when have the Jazz ever done easy?
Quick notes: Gordy was quiet tonight (just 12 points and, wow, six turnovers), and even looked partially disinterested at times, until that huge 3-pointer in OT – I thought Harris looked pissed at our little sophomore a couple of times over the past few games, must be the new haircut … DeMarre Carroll had a bit of a reality check, but still hustled his arse off … Jerry Sloan was in attendance, and looked pissed as usual; he probably thought the Jazz took too many threes … the most awesome moment of the game came between the third and fourth quarter when announcer Chris Mullin (is he a New Yawker?) asked Coach Corbin his plans for the final period and the Jazz coach proceeded to go off – in detail – about picks, cuts, rolls, shots, and all things other coaches typically say nothing about; God bless the man, he is still a rookie coach. He’ll be waving off the press with G-Pop smack before long … Kanter looked every bit like the man who tore up LA many moons before, instead of the child-stuck-in-the-middle-of-the-road-before-dad-jumps-out-to-save-him Kanter we’ve since been forced to endure, nabbing nine powerful points, many coming in the final period … I loved Harris’ “Are you not entertained” motion after the 3-point bomb in OT; in those five seconds I felt the way LeBron James fans probably feel on a nightly basis … And finally, thank you Big Al for acknowledging the fans, urging them on their feet K. Malone style at game’s end. Sorry Evans, we are the 12th man.