A relieved version of the Jazz took the floor against the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday afternoon — a first for the team since Thursday’s traumatic trade deadline — and the meaning of that R-word came immediately into question.
One of the definitions for relieved is “eased from anxiety, pain, fear or distress.” Another is “to have brought effective aid to.”
Saturday’s meaning was most certainly the former, the Jazz having done nothing to alter or improve their makeup before or at the deadline. Not only were the Jazz players OK with that, they played as though they were OK with it. Emboldened, even. They beat the Spurs by the count of 125-105, and in the postgame locker room, nobody was looking around for additional help of any sort. They seemed content with what they had, who they were.
And if they continue to play with the force and focus they displayed on their home floor on this occasion, maybe they’d be right. There’s yet more time to be wrong, too.
Absent were some of the troubles that had plagued the Jazz in their lower moments through the season’s first 55 games. More-than-minor details such as shooting the ball as though it were a hundred-pound bag of fertilizer, handling it as though it were a radioactive orb, and defending it as though they had forgotten by what means they’d become a respectable outfit over the past year.
Against a Western Conference rival from which they are separated by just a single game, the Jazz hit 52 percent of their shots, 39 percent from deep, they dominated the paint, they turned the ball over a mere 11 times, they went to the boards hard with a favorable margin of 16, and they allowed the visitors at Vivint Arena to shoot just 44 percent.
That about covers it.
Afterward, Quin Snyder complimented his team, singling out Rudy Gobert (21 points, 13 boards, effective defense against LaMarcus Aldridge), Royce O’Neale (17 points, with time played at power forward), and Ricky Rubio (16 points, six assists, zero turnovers).
“They played multiple defenses against us,” Snyder said. “… Once we got comfortable, got spaced right, guys were attacking, we played smart, instinctive.”
As for the defense, he said: “We had a good awareness collectively.”
Maybe the Jazz do have something to prove — to the doubters who believe their present constitution isn’t quite substantial enough to achieve their goal of title contention, and to themselves, who don’t always play as though they’re so sure about their calling.
They were sure on Saturday afternoon, in a rare matinee performance about which Snyder said, “You’ve got to be able to play whenever the game starts.”
The Jazz were.
They are now 32-24, hovering near the middle of the playoff pack in the West, looking for teams to pass in those standings, although they do not admit to such preoccupation/distraction. They have just one more game — against no less than the Golden State Warriors — on Tuesday night before they scatter for a 10-day respite during the All-Star break.
It will give the Jazz time to mull over exactly what it is they aim to accomplish in the regular season’s final weeks, a span of games that will determine both their seeding and their opportunity in the postseason. Jazz players said they, indeed, were happy to have the drama of the trade deadline behind them, especially the players who had been unsettled by trade talk that identified them.
If any of the others disagreed with that sentiment, instead wanting management to bring in additional help for a stronger run, they did so with a whisper, wisely disinclined to shout it into a megaphone for all to hear.
Yesterday’s weak spots, after all, are today’s wingmen.
There’s no looking back for the Jazz now. Only forward.
If they want to make the playoffs, make a dent in and leave a mark on them, they’ll have to do it as they are. There’s no relief in sight. No effective aid, anyway. Just the easing of anxiety that none of them were used at the broker’s hand, swapped for some other player who was or players who were thought to be a major upgrade from them.
There’s as much responsibility in that, though, as there is relief. With every wish, as the Boss sang it, there comes a curse. The Jazz now must always play the way they did against the Spurs. If they don’t, upgrades won’t be just an option, they’ll be a matter of time.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.