Kragthorpe: Beating the Heat is agonizing for Jazz
When the end came mercifully and happily for the Jazz, Gordon Hayward walked off the court smiling and pointing to his visiting friends in the EnergySolutions Arena crowd.
The closing scene could have looked much different Monday night, if not for the Jazz's righting themselves in time to secure a 104-97 win over Miami.
Any defeat of the Heat is monumental for the Jazz, even if the NBA's defending champions have lost more than half of their road games and are only about a top-five team at the moment. The victory came at a nice time for the Jazz (21-19), with a brutal schedule finally turning in their favor as they approach the season's halfway point.
Yet the accompanying story is what could have happened in a fourth quarter when the Jazz were crumbling, the Heat were attacking and the scoreboard clock was ticking very, very slowly.
"It was intense, man," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin.
Yeah, and just try being in the seats, on the couch or anywhere else that fans were watching helplessly as the Jazz's 19-point lead to begin the fourth period was steadily dwindling.
On a night when other NBA games were decided by 39, 29 and 26 points, the Jazz were threatening to do something similar to the Heat as unrealistic as that may seem.
Somehow, you just knew it was worth making a note when Marvin Williams missed a 3-pointer from the corner with the Jazz leading by 21 late in the third quarter, and when Derrick Favors foolishly fouled a 3-point shooter when they still led by 18 early in the fourth period.
Absolutely nothing comes easily for this team. Certainly, the Heat had something to do with the home team's collapse, but any rally requires cooperation.
"We were indecisive and hesitant â¦ I'm just glad we were able to hang on," Hayward said.
The Jazz made 1 of their first 13 shots in the fourth quarter, explaining how their lead went from 18 to two in about seven minutes. Other than Hayward who delivered a 3-pointer when the lead was down to five, a tough shot in the lane when it was a two-point game and, finally, another driving shot that clinched the win the Jazz went 1-for-12 in the fourth quarter. And even he missed four shots and made a bad pass, while scoring 10 of his 22 points in that period.
"We're trying to learn how to push a lead from 20 to 30 and close teams out," Hayward said. "For whatever reason, we haven't been able to do that. I want to get more chances, for sure."
The Jazz might be the NBA's most volatile team not only from game to game, but within games. Last weekend alone, they lost at Atlanta after leading by 15 and won at Detroit after trailing by 15, while almost blowing a big lead of their own.
These guys have a knack for making the wins as agonizing as the losses.
"You have moments when you really love and embrace 'em," Corbin said before the game, "and you have moments when you just want to grab 'em and [say], 'C'mon, let's get it going.' But that's part of the journey."
After the latest adventure, Corbin could say he was happy this game gave him the opportunity to witness "how our guys would rally around each other and then fight back."
It may not have been much fun to watch his team play its way into that difficult position, but the Jazz got it right in the end.