Rarely does a regular-season game carry with it all the baggage that Tuesday night’s Jazz-Suns game carried.
Baggage full up with ramifications.
Ramifications diverse enough to have advantages and disadvantages in either direction.
Advantages and disadvantages not quite strong enough to persuade or console proponents of one direction to switch over to or be balmed by the other.
Directions exclusive enough, on the one hand, to push the Jazz into the playoffs with a win, and, on the other, to put them in the lottery with a loss.
It came down to this, then: playoffs now or pieces for the future later.
The Jazz got the playoffs, beating the Suns, 100-88, at EnergySolutions Arena. And they were jacked about it afterward.
“A lot of people were counting us out,” Al Jefferson said.
Well. Not anymore.
The same Jazz said from season’s onset that the playoffs were their goal, all while many on the outside wondered if they could win 25 games. As it is, they’ll likely end up with 36.
“If we do the right things, we’ll be a team that makes a run at the playoffs,” Tyrone Corbin said in December.
“With the talent we have on this team, if things click and the chemistry is there, we have a chance to have a great season,” Jeff Hornacek said.
“We’ll make the playoffs … I think,” C.J. Miles said. “For sure … I think.”
There is no I think about it anymore. The Jazz are in.
“Everybody’s excited,” Derrick Favors said after the win. “I was excited. We’re happy. We worked all year for this … We had to prove everybody wrong.”
The players got what they wanted.
Gordon Hayward was so caught up in the moment, he actually said, without laughing: “The goal isn’t just to get to the playoffs, it’s to win the whole thing.”
Some of the fans got what they wanted, too. But only some of them.
Others wanted another high pick in the draft, something the Jazz forfeit by way of the Jefferson deal with Minnesota in qualifying for the postseason. It comes down to this: Would you rather make the playoffs and face San Antonio in the first round and not have the pick or not make the playoffs and gain a lottery selection … say, another Hayward … to add to your arsenal for a more proper run next season?
Life’s full of tough choices.
But not for Corbin and his players, all of whom, as stated, wanted their place in the sun, on this occasion by beating the Suns, even if it means probable first-round elimination.
Tuesday night’s game started tight, just the way everybody expected it would, but, as the quarters wore on, the Jazz took care of their business. They hauled a 49-42 first-half lead through the second half, losing it, and then extending it back out in the fourth period.
That span was when the fun really started.
There was a one-point Suns lead, a two-point Jazz lead, a four-point Jazz lead taken to seven by a Paul Millsap three-point play at the six-minute mark.
From there, it was Utah’s game for the taking, largely because of the front line of Millsap, Favors and Jefferson, who combined for 57 points and 42 rebounds. Phoenix had no answer for that. And that fact eliminated the Suns from a postseason the Jazz are now assured of.
The Jazz players celebrated in their locker room, then, rather seriously turned their thoughts to an extended season.
Good news for the Jazz, and their fans, at least some of them, depending on which direction they ultimately wanted their team to go.
GORDON MONSON hosts the “Gordon Monson Show” weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. He’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.