Amidst their big Western Conference road trip the Miami Heat were in town on Saturday night to face the Jazz. Led by Marvin Williams and his 23 points, the Jazz beat the Heat 94-89.
Before the game Miami head coach Eric Spoelstra said that the Heat needed to beware of Utah’s energy, especially early. With the Jazz returning home to play for a second consecutive night, it seemed like an interesting concern for the coach of the reigning two-time NBA Champions. Well, that’s why he’s the coach – he knew that the Heat get every team’s best shot, every night.
Right off the bat, in front of a sellout crowd, the Jazz caught fire. Lighting up the scoreboard in the first quarter, Utah shot 61.9 percent from the field and made 4-6 three’s. Just a night earlier they had attempted the most three’s in franchise history – the difference on Saturday was that it was working, the Jazz finished the quarter leading 32-20.
As hot as Utah started, Miami was dragging. With what should have been fresh legs all around, the Heat shot 38.9 percent and LeBron James was 1-5 from the field. The energy was the best it’s been in EnergySolutions this season, even if 30 percent or more of the fans were doused in red. The place lit-up during that first quarter as Williams dropped in 12 points, including two treys.
In the second quarter, things went how most NBA fans would have expected, Miami figured things out. As they shot 57.9 percent from the field they cut the lead down to two before the break. That quarter did provide one of the best individual matchups of the night to blossom as Dwyane Wade and Alec Burks went at each other hard.
During the early part of his career Wade was tremendous at driving to the hoop and finishing. This season, Burks has brought that part of his game to an elite level. As they spent the majority of the quarter working against each other, Wade went 3-6 from the field with one free throw.
The youngster kept pace though, driving and finishing regularly he was 5-8 in the quarter and even knocked down a three. Burks had 12 points in the quarter and Wade had 7 and they were equal in rebounds and assists. It is worth noting that Burks had two extra minutes on the court.
With the lead cut to two, both teams headed to the locker room to make adjustments. Spoelstra knew the energy might be an issue and now it was time to see if he could help his team overcome it.
In the third quarter things stayed deadlocked. Scoring dropped off for both teams but the Jazz managed to slow Miami down enough to continue riding a two point buffer into the final quarter. The lead had stayed with the Jazz mainly because James couldn’t get going on offense. Heading into the fourth he was 4-11 from the field with 11 points. Surely that would improve before the night ended, right?
The quarter started off well for the Jazz. Kanter scored two straight buckets, one a put back over Chris Andersen and another came from a spin move around Birdman on the baseline. Then with 6:11 to play Hayward found Kanter inside and this time he flushed with both hands to extend the Jazz lead to five.
Kanter was big in those moments but it was the veterans that would need to keep this game out of reach for Miami. Just before the five minute mark, Williams missed a transition three and it turned into a breakaway dunk for Wade the other way. Williams answers for his miss by banging a trey home the next time down the court. Utah leads 84-77.
Then, after a Mario Chalmers tw- pointer, Richard Jefferson loses his handle on the ball a couple times before finally recovering. As he holds the ball from his knees, Williams broke towards him on the right wing and Jefferson dished. Williams casted a leaping-leaner up just before the shot clock expired and – it went in.
“I think that was the one where RJ kept his poise,” Williams said. “I was able to get away from Bosh and just threw it up and it went in.”
It may have been that simple for Williams but for the fans, it was mind-blowing. ESA erupted. The fans and players could taste a chance to knock-off the defending champs. In the waning moments the veteran duo would hook up again, this time Williams found Jefferson who knocked-down a jumper giving the Jazz a six point lead with just under 90 seconds to play.
The Heat weren’t dead yet, Ray Allen hit a three, and with 46 seconds to go the Jazz needed one more bucket to virtually seal the win. Rookie point guard Trey wanted the ball in the big moment. He dribbled away 20 seconds of the shot clock and then, after what felt like eternity, he popped a 19-footer and the Jazz lead was back to five.
The Jazz beat the Heat 89-94.
While the outcome surprised many, James’ play surprised everyone. He was barely noticeable in the fourth quarter scoring just two points, both from the free throw line. His 13 points ties the fewest he’s scored this season. In fact, he hasn’t been held to less than that during the regular season since his first season in Miami.
After the game everyone wanted to know how the Jazz held King James to just 13 points. Well, everyone had different answers.
“He was 4-13. I thought our guys made him work as hard as he could for everything he got. That’s all you can do against a great player like him,” Corbin said. “Fortunately he missed some shots tonight.”
“I thought we played good defense on all their big guys. I think you’re always waiting for them to turn it on a little bit but we didn’t really let them get going tonight,” Gordon Hayward said. “It seemed like we were always in the right place at the right time.”
And perhaps the most truthful, and matching the same sentiment Jefferson offered when asked the question Williams said it was James who slowed himself down.
“I think LeBron might have held Lebron to 13 points,” Williams said. “There’s nobody that can stop LeBron from scoring the basketball.”
Even if that was the case, this was a win during a rough season that the Jazz can hang their hat one.
“I’m really pleased and appreciative of the effort the guys brought tonight,” Corbin said. “(Williams) and Richard Jefferson – I can’t say enough about their focus and their desire to help this young group grow. They’re giving us a chance to be competitive every night and the guys are responding to them.”
While the win marked the fifth straight season the Jazz have taken at least one from Miami, and it will surely be a fan favorite this year, Hayward was happy but also a little irritated.
“That’s what’s frustrating, we can play like this,” Hayward said. “We have to be able to get up for every single game, not just the world champs. Hopefully we can build off this.”
While Hayward and the rest of the young guys are finding their place in the league and working to become more consistent, this is a game that they can look back to. They can look back and know there’s potential to be great inside the Utah Jazz locker room. They can know that with the right intensity, the Jazz can compete with, and even beat, the best in the world.