You know how calm the sky gets before a big storm rolls in, how the clouds and the wind seem to be holding their breath? Well, that was the atmosphere in the EnergySolutions Arena Wednesday night during the first two and a half quarters of basketball between the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans.
There were times during the first half that I could have heard a pin drop on the court, all the way up at my seat on row 27 of the lower bowl. Going into the game, I honestly didn’t think the Jazz would win. All the talk before the game was centered on Utah’s chances of winning, and the general consensus was that Utah probably wasn’t going to pull this one out. Then, just like that first crack of rolling thunder, the ESA erupted during the last half of the third quarter as the Jazz rallied and fought and showed some signs of life. After being down by 16 at one point during the game, Utah edged ever closer to that elusive in-game lead behind nine third quarter points from Richard Jefferson, six from Enes Kanter, and 11 from Gordon Hayward. The most important number from the third quarter, though? The three-point percentage. The Jazz went into the game shooting nearly 23% from deep, but were 50% in the third quarter, hitting 3 of 6.
The third quarter was key to the Jazz’s 111 – 105 win Wednesday night, though. All season long, the Jazz have struggled mightily to score points. During the third quarter, the ball just found its way into the net. Utah didn’t make any drastic change to their offense (granted, Diante Garrett ran the point extremely well, and having his improved play at the one guard helped things immensely) in order to secure this win.
I asked coach Ty Corbin after the game what he was most impressed with offensively from his team. His response drew quite a few chuckles from the media: “The ball going in the hoop.”
Corbin followed that up by saying that “We haven’t [had a game] shooting 51% all year. We had 51% from a lot of guys, guys made the right basketball plays, shared the ball, and attacked when we needed to attack.”
Hayward had his own thoughts on the offense as well. “I thought we played with more energy, executed a lot better. Once one guy starts, the crowd gets into it, and I think it’s a combination of both. It’s definitely fun when guys are making shots.”
That really was the key Wednesday night – just making shots. The Jazz still had 21 turnovers in a game where their opponent was playing their third contest in four nights. Utah shot around 40% from the court through nine games – they shot 51.4% in their first win of the season. Utah did notch 23 assists, which is to be expected when shooting improves. Even beyond that, the Jazz were able to score when it mattered most. The game was incredibly close down the stretch. With 6:31 left in the game, Utah trailed 87-85 after a nice bucket by Kanter. The Jazz didn’t just find a way to make their offense click tonight – they scored when it counted most. Hayward added another 9 points while Jefferson netted 8 more during the final quarter of play. When the final buzzer sounded, the Jazz had just put up 38 points in 12 minutes of basketball, their highest score in a quarter by far this season.
“It really was a team effort,” Jefferson said. “Everyone is working hard, everyone is trying to improve and it showed tonight.”
You can look at a lot of different things in this game, like the fact that five Jazz players scored in double figures (six players were in double figures in the season-opening loss to Oklahoma City), or that Marvin Williams shot 2-4 from the three point line, or that Jefferson had a +/- of +13. But really, it all comes down to the simplest aspect of basketball – making shots.
While this win is going to be great for team morale and will hopefully give the Jazz something to build on going forward, it’ll be important for the team to remember that getting a win is sometimes really just a matter of, “The ball going in the hoop.”