Kragthorpe: Jazz overcome rough history vs. Spurs
Confetti flew from the rafters, Jazz players mobbed one another on the court and fans celebrated in the seats.
Seven months later, everything had changed in EnergySolutions Arena. Same stage, different scene.
The team that made the Jazz look so bad last spring was back in the building, but the San Antonio Spurs were not their usual selves. Neither were the Jazz compared with last season's model.
In a classic case of taking advantage of second chances, point guard Mo Williams gave the Jazz a 99-96 victory with a 3-pointer from the right angle as time expired.
Thanks to his team's rally from eight points down in the last four minutes, this undoubtedly ranks as the most meaningful win of Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin's career. A victory over eventual NBA champion Miami in March might be in the ballpark, but there's considerably less history with the Heat.
"It's a great win, because we're showing some growth," Corbin said. "It's just a great reward for the guys."
San Antonio is the gold standard for the Jazz, particularly after the way the Spurs swept them out of the playoffs in May. Coincidentally, the Spurs did the same thing to Williams' Los Angeles Clippers in the next round.
Williams actually had two chances to get the ending right. He missed from almost the identical spot as he made the game-winner. Paul Millsap rebounded the ball, which enabled the Jazz to call a timeout and play for the last shot in a tie game.
"It shows how much your teammates believe in you, how much the coaches believe in you," said Williams, who backed away from defender Danny Green to create some space and then stepped into the 26-footer and drilled it.
"That's a huge defensive error," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "What do you think a guy is gong to do with two seconds on the clock? You make him drive. You don't step back on Mo Williams."
The Spurs uncharacteristically crumbled down the stretch, falling to 18-5 overall and 11-3 on the road.
Williams was far from the Jazz's only star. Millsap scored 24 points, Al Jefferson added 21 after being overwhelmed in the playoffs and Gordon Hayward scored 19. Shooting confidently, Hayward made four 3-pointers, including one that spurred the Jazz's comeback.
Counting a 10-point defeat in San Antonio in early November and the playoffs last spring, the Jazz had dropped 11 of the last 12 games against the Spurs. The only victory came in April when Popovich left home Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
In that first-round playoff series, the No. 8-seeded Jazz lost all four games by an average of 16 points.
The day before the close-out Game 4, Jefferson had offered the opinion that pretty much sealed the series. "It gets to the point where you're just playing a team that's better than you," he said.
With that backdrop, the Jazz welcomed San Antonio back to ESA with satisfying results. "Such a big-time win," Hayward said.
After trailing by 10 points late in the first quarter, the Jazz (13-10) responded with a big second quarter and took a 53-44 halftime lead.
But the Jazz faded at the end of the third quarter, as the Spurs earned a 71-71 tie. So the real test would come in the fourth quarter, when the Spurs are known for coldly putting away opponents. Citing his team's experience and the play of Duncan and Parker, Popovich had said dryly before the game, "You might think it's logical that we'd at least be decent in the fourth quarter. â¦ When you have two of your stars playing that well all the time, it works."
But not this time.