Boston • When Devin Harris was lost, Earl Watson provided guidance. When Watson was out, Jamaal Tinsley stepped in. And when the exhausted Jazz needed energy, minutes and fresh legs Monday against New Jersey, Watson again flew off the bench.
Utah’s depth has been its lifeforce during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. Nowhere has that been more evident than the Jazz’s three-deep buildup at point guard.
Utah has three NBA-quality floor generals at its disposal. All command respect. All have high basketball IQs. All are running the Jazz’s offensive system better than ever at the same time the team’s peaking.
While Harris has steadily improved during his second run with the Jazz — he leads the club in average assists (4.9) and is averaging 12.4 points during his last five games — Watson and Tinsley make Utah unique. They’re complementary but different, and each has the ability to provide an instant advantage as soon as the ball touches their hands.
“It’s just a tremendous luxury that we have,” Harris said. “A veteran guy like Jamaal, who understands and knows how to stay ready. … And Earl being a consummate professional, knowing his number’s going to be called.”
Before Utah won its eighth contest in 10 games by slicing the Nets, 105-84, Corbin delivered a reminder to his two backups. The Jazz coach had surprised Watson on Sunday, declaring Tinsley was Utah’s second-string point guard at the same time Watson had finally recovered from a sprained left ankle. Knowing how fiery and proud Watson is, Corbin united his reserves prior to tipoff. Stick together and support each other, Corbin said. I’ll figure out the minutes. You just do your thing.
“It’s a good and a bad problem for me to have,” Corbin said.
It’s great for the Jazz, and could become invaluable during the final month of the regular season.
While there’s been a resurgence at the point-guard position during recent years — Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo are among the NBA’s premier players — few teams run two-strong at the 1. Three deep? It’s almost unheard of. Except in Jazzland.
Tinsley’s run from March 14-23 cemented Utah’s depth. After showing random sparks during games when either Harris struggled or Watson was injured — a 13-assist, nine-point outburst at Golden State on Feb. 2 was intriguing — the nine-year veteran who defines the idea of a second-and-last chance in The Association grabbed his moment March 14 and ran with it.
Since pouring in 11 points and dishing out eight assists at Phoenix on the same night Watson re-injured his ankle, Tinsley’s again proven Utah’s player evaluation department is ahead of the game. Now, a player banished from the NBA in 2010-11 — who started 2011-12 in the Development League — has given the Jazz one of its biggest assets.
“It’s just a blessing and I’m taking advantage of it,” Tinsley said. “Things happen for a reason.”
Watson was searching for reason Monday. At times, he’d rivaled Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap as Utah’s most valuable player this season. So it was no surprise the highly competitive player was caught off guard when Corbin promoted Tinsley.
But while Watson’s competition for backup minutes has recently excelled, The Bulldog spent the past 18 months as one of the Jazz’s most dependable players. Corbin isn’t done calling on Watson, and he could become even more useful if Utah claims a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.
By late Monday, Watson was back to his optimistic self. He’d run the Jazz’s gutsy second unit for 18:24, dishing out three assists and collecting two assists against the Nets. The toughest player on Utah’s roster again saw room for growth.
“We’re smart enough to figure it out. … I played my first years with Baron Davis,” Watson said. “I can just go back to that mentality and rethink how it happened and the things that made it work, and just pick it up from there.”
Player Pts Ast Reb FG FT 3pt
Harris 10.3 4.9 1.6 44.6 76 33.8
Watson 3.0 4.5 2.3 35.2 69 19.6
Tinsley 3.5 3.0 1.1 42 50 38.9
Jazz at Celtics
P At TD Garden (Boston)
Tipoff • Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Jazz 27-23, Celtics 27-22
Last meeting • Celtics, 110-86 (Jan. 21, 2011)
About the Jazz • Utah entered Tuesday tied with Houston and Denver for seventh place in the Western Conference. … The Jazz rank fourth out of 30 teams in average rebounds (43.6), sixth in scoring (99.1) and 10th in assists (21.7). … Al Jefferson is averaging 22.4 points on 58.2 percent shooting during his past five games.
About the Celtics • Boston is last in the league in rebounding (38.2) and 26th in scoring (91.4). However, Boston ranks second in assists (23.5) and third in points allowed (90.6). … Paul Pierce tops the Celtics in scoring (18.9), Kevin Garnett leads the team in rebounds (8.1), and Rajon Rondo is first in assists (10.7) and steals (1.8). … Boston has won four of five and didn’t play Tuesday.