Kragthorpe: Jazz nearly stumble but still take division lead
With a victory that was equally entertaining and disturbing, the Jazz took over the Northwest Division lead, improved their draft status and moved up in the Western Conference playoff standings Monday night.
That's nice, but nothing about this 103-98 win over the New York Knicks at EnergySolutions Arena was as easy as it should have been. What passed as an achievement was mostly a case of finding the finish line and avoiding a devastating loss at this point of the proceedings.
"We just stuck with it, man," said Jazz forward Carlos Boozer, hardly sounding dissatisfied. Winning did beat the alternative, anyway. That's especially true considering how every New York loss will help the Jazz in June, when they exercise the Knicks' first-round draft pick (currently in the top eight). There was some mixture of emotions among Jazz followers recently when New York knocked off Dallas and Denver, aiding the Jazz in the standings but lowering them in the draft order.
No such dilemma existed Monday, when Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni knew the Jazz had multiple incentives in play. Before the game, D'Antoni labeled the situation "kind of weird."
And then a bizarre contest unfolded, with the Jazz barely spared from having to answer how they could lose after making 19 of their first 22 shots.
Among the oddities: The Jazz scored 44 first-quarter points. They made their first seven three-point attempts, then missed the next seven, before Mehmet Okur's shot launched a 10-2 run midway through the fourth quarter. Kyle Korver went 1-for-9, all on two-point attempts, while not jeopardizing his shot at an NBA record for three-point percentage. Just for practice, apparently, the Jazz played a Frank Layden Bear mascot video skit with the theme of "Never quit" - when they led by five points with 8.2 seconds left. Well, Layden was a Knicks consultant after spending 20 years with the Jazz.
The Knicks, meanwhile, missed several chances to take the lead and scored only 11 points in the fourth quarter. "The way they play, they're capable of being really good, they're capable of being really bad," Korver said, "and we saw both of that."
The same applied to the Jazz, whose stars of the game were issued T-shirts with "Clinched" on the front for the sake of interviews afterward. Actually, the Jazz made the playoffs Sunday for the 24th time when Memphis lost. While they may not have inspired much confidence Monday, the Jazz did take over the Northwest Division lead for the first time all season when Denver lost at Dallas. They also showed more stability than they did on the last Monday of March 2009, when they lost a 24-point lead against the Knicks before earning an eight-point victory.
Next comes Wednesday's visit from Golden State, another free-shooting, nothing-to-lose opponent. The forecast: more craziness.