The Chicago Bulls came into Salt Lake City reeling, after learning that former MVP Derrick Rose is going to miss the remainder of this season due to a medial meniscus tear. Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz got back into town after suffering yet another blowout loss on the road to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Story lines were aplenty in this game, and the Jazz didn’t disappoint.
Trey Burke, the rookie point guard Jazz fans have been dying to see, got his first start in front of Utah’s still-rabid fan base Monday night. Burke did well, finishing the game with 14 points, 3 assists, and 6 rebounds. Another thing sticks out to me though, that doesn’t really show up in the stat sheet. This goes not only for Burke, but the Jazz team as a whole – they all played with grit, determination, and fire. Utah wanted this win desperately, and after a tough road trip, a Monday night matchup against the Bulls seemed like the perfect time to snag a win.
The best example of just how gusty a performance this way by Utah is evidenced by their play in a close, late-game situation. A few times this season, the Jazz have put themselves into a position to win a ball game, but fell just short in the closing moments, due to fouls, turnovers, and bad shots. Monday night, though, Utah found a way to play a cleaner, smoother game.
“You just have to limit [the run] and kind of push back. Every team’s going to push, it’s how hard you can push back that determines how good you can be,” Richard Jefferson said after the win.
The Jazz certainly found a way to push back. After having a commanding lead for most of the game, the Bulls were up 77-75 with 52.2 seconds left to go in regulation. I’m sure the same thought popped into a lot of fans’ heads as they watched Loul Deng go 1-1 at the free throw line to give Chicago the lead – are the Jazz going to lose another close game?
Jefferson allayed Jazz fans’ fears for a moment, as he came out of the timeout, hit a floater as he was fouled, and completed a 3-point play to give the Jazz a 78-77 lead. After one more made free throw by Joakim Noah, and some missed shots in crunch time, fans in the arena were given some free basketball.
Utah played their first overtime game of the season and really controlled the entire five minutes. The fans were so loud, louder than I’ve heard them in a while, and the arena was rocking. The effort by both teams was great to watch, just as a fan of basketball. Chicago was desperate to prove that even without Rose they could still take care of business on the road, while Utah was fighting to get just a second win on the season. In the end, though, Utah prevailed, behind a three-ball from Burke and an alley-oop from Gordon Hayward to Jeremy Evans in overtime.
“Ball movement, sharing the ball…we played as a team on both ends of the court,” was Derrick Favors’ reply to what exactly helped the Jazz win Monday night.
Ball movement was great, and the Jazz finished with 22 assists to only 15 turnovers – a 1.5 assist/turnover ratio, one of the best so far for Utah this season. Hayward notched a career high in assists with 12, along with 15 points.
Another thing that I really thought was commendable by the Jazz in their second win – defense. While the Bulls were the 25th best offensive team going into Monday night’s game (the Jazz were 30th) Utah didn’t just let Chicago have their way on offense. The Jazz were aggressive in the passing lanes, physical down low, and at least made things a bit more difficult on the defensive end for the Bulls.
One more note from the win was Burke in overtime. In the final minute, Jefferson stripped the ball, threw it to Hayward, who then threw it to Burke. Burke was ahead of every other player on the court, and easily had an open layup. Instead of taking the shot, Burke dished the rock to Jefferson for a two-handed slam that brought the fans in Salt Lake City to their feet. Even though Burke may not have had the greatest performance in terms of assists and turnovers, he certainly gave Jazz fans something to cheer about and look forward to.
With back-to-back games against Phoenix coming for the Jazz, there’s potential to build a small winning streak here and hopefully give the guys some more confidence. Seeing Utah get a win in this fashion, by executing down the stretch and not choking under pressure, was huge – and it’s also got to be huge for the players. The importance of this win can’t be overstated, and it honestly couldn’t have come at a better time for the Jazz.