A big lead in the possession of the Utah Jazz is like a wad of cash in the sweaty palms of a fiendish gambler. But on Wednesday, as the they once again lost control of a double-digit margin, something more important remained.
No matter how inefficient, these guys are finding ways to win. Late charges, timely steals, big 3-pointers, whatever it takes. The Jazz had all of those in Wednesday’s 92-88 win over the Washington Wizards.
“Teams are going to make their run, but we get the steps we need to get and win the game,” Al Jefferson said.
Paul Millsap led six Jazz players in double figures with 16 points and 15 rebounds; he also drew a key charge with 5:56 remaining as Washington’s John Wall tried to keep his team in the game.
Gordon Hayward scored 15 points to lead a strong performance by the bench, while Jefferson also recorded a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Wall, the former No.1 overall pick, tallied 14 points and eight assists in his seventh game since missing most of the first half of the season with a knee injury.
While the result was once again pleasing to the Jazz (23-19), the final twists and turns required to get there were less so.
The Jazz have not won a fourth quarter in their last six games, and were outscored 30-19 in the final period against Washignton. However, they are 5-1 in that stretch and have won seven of their last nine overall. Against the resurgent Wizards (9-31), whose five recent wins can be tied to Wall’s return, they saw a 22-point lead cut to two after a Kevin Seraphin jumper with 6:57 remaining.
“We’ve done that too many times this year,” Hayward said. “We’ve got to be able to focus and push it from 20 to 30, kind of run teams out of the gym.”
If they’re looking for a model, the Jazz can find it in Wednesday’s second quarter, where the Jazz bench helped the team to a 28-8 run and a 47-25 lead.
Enes Kanter scored 10 points in the quarter. Earl Watson ran the point guard efficiently and with flash usually exhibited more by Jamaal Tinsley.
The second unit, led by Watson and driven by Hayward, Kanter and Derrick Favors has been, at times, the Jazz’s saving grace.
“Defensively, they take it up,” coach Tyrone Corbin said. “They’re a lot more aggressive on the pick-and-roll. They cover each other faster because they’re younger, more athletic guys.”
But that comes with its drawbacks. Corbin started a second unit in the fourth quarter that was lethargic and, he said, tense.
“We got stagnant because the pressure was on,” Corbin said. “If they can play free, it’s better. When there’s a little bit pressure, they tend to think a little bit more.”
The Jazz never relinquished their lead, and were quickly settled by a defensive stand that saw the Wizards fail to score on 10 of 11 possessions as the Jazz built an 88-82 lead.
While they’re closing out games, the Jazz certainly are not doing it emphatically.
The Jazz are less than two weeks removed from a 103-95 loss in Atlanta in which they blew a 15-point lead.
Subsequently, they have seen leads of 13 (Detroit), 21 (Miami) and, now, 22 almost entirely disappear before pulling out wins.
“It’s a concern,” Corbin said, “but you win the games, so you don’t go crazy about it.”
Randy Foye said the team has progressed since the Atlanta game, which, in this conversation, may be used as a line of demarcation. The figurative line in the sand where one could imagine the Jazz banding together and saying that they’d bend, but not break.
“I just think growth [is] the biggest thing,” Foye said. “We are growing as a unit every single day. Obviously today we’re happy we got the win, but kind of disappointed in the way we finished things. We should have taken the lead to 30 and definitely blown them out.”
Jazz 92, Wizards 88
O The Jazz see a 22-point lead cut to two in the fourth quarter but hang on.
• Four Jazz starters score in double digits as Utah shoots 44 percent, compared with the Wizards’ 36 percent.
• After playing three games in 12 days, the Jazz have four in the next six.