The Jazz don’t run a whole lot of plays for Richard Jefferson.
More accurately, the Jazz may not run ANY plays for Richard Jefferson.
But Utah made the most of the forward’s hot hand in the first quarter Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena, seeking him out early and often to jump-start the Utah offense in an 89-88 victory over Orlando.
Jefferson scored 17 in that first period, playing every minute and hitting each of his four 3-point attempts to give the Jazz an 11-point lead. The 33-year-old finished with 21 points, just one off his season high on Nov. 13 against New Orleans.
“I was able to get some open looks, and fortunately they went in,” said Jefferson, noting that he is resigned to a supporting role in his 12th year in the league. “It’s feast and famine. I don’t worry about getting off to a good start.”
He had one — a good start — Saturday, and it was serendipitous on a night when the Jazz were without shooting guard Alec Burks, who suffered a sprained ankle in Friday’s practice.
His teammates made a concerted effort to find him after he hit the first 3-pointer, said Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin. It played into Utah’s game plan. “[Orlando] did a good job of flooding that strong side, so we wanted to get the ball to the weak side and he was open with his feet set.”
Jefferson said that’s a characteristic that impresses him about this team: Throughout the Jazz’s struggles, no one player has taken it upon himself to change the outcomes. Futility has not bred selfishness.
Nights like Jefferson’s “[open] it up for everybody,” said forward Gordon Hayward, who assisted on one of Jefferson’s early long-distance buckets. “When anybody’s knocking down shots like that, everyone’s got to respect it.”
On the third three, Jefferson waited with his hands held high for an arcing Burke pass and almost seemed to have his wrists moving forward by the time it hit the tips of his fingers.
“Catch it high, shoot it high: He does a great job of it,” Corbin said. Jefferson said he was taught that by San Antonio shooting coach Chip Engelland, and he frequently works on it for buzzer-beater situations.
“It’s like, as it’s coming, you just kind of flick it back,” he said.
Corbin said that even when he’s not scoring at a Chamberlain-like pace (or virtually always, in other words), Jefferson’s counsel has been important on a team of young players who are unaccustomed to struggling.
“He’s been through it and the guys kind of listen to him on the floor when he talks.”