Memphis, Tenn. • Everyone could tell that this type of game was coming for the Utah Jazz.
Scoring 130 points a game was unsustainable. Shooting 50 percent from the field? Impossible. There was going to be a night where the Jazz played with little energy, where shots didn’t fall, where offense in general was a chore and then, we would all find out if this winning streak is real.
This explains why Jazz players were jubilant on Wednesday night after a 92-88 slow dance of a win over the Memphis Grizzlies. In a game where they set a season-high with their seventh consecutive win, they struggled more than they had in any of the previous six and still made enough plays to walk out of an almost empty FedEx Forum victorious.
“I think we won because we have confidence,” Utah center Rudy Gobert said. “It’s never easy playing in Memphis. It was a very physical game. What I liked about tonight was that we were focused on the ball, on the cause. We just kept playing hard. We stayed focused and we got the stops when we needed.”
The Jazz never did adjust to the Grizzlies defense. They bumped cutters, they ran through screens. They held jerseys, they threw elbows. They played with a desperation that belied their 18-37 record, forcing the Jazz into shooting 42 percent from the field and 6 of 22 from 3-point range. Utah scored only 44 points in the first half, and only Ricky Rubio and Rodney Hood reached double-figures.
But Utah responded with toughness defensively, and Gobert was at the center of that. Guarding Memphis star Marc Gasol exclusively, he limited Gasol to 7-for-20 shooting. He also repeatedly covered for other teammates, contesting shots at the rim and denying cutters access to the lane. He blocked two shots and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds in 37 minutes.
“I thought we showed some growth tonight,” Hood said. “We’ve been playing pretty well offensively throughout this win streak, and tonight it was a grind for us. They created some turnovers, but we gutted it out and made plays. We hit free throws down the stretch, and we got stops when we needed.”
The Jazz never trailed, but they never led by more than 11 points at 90-79 late in the fourth quarter. So, the game was consistently in doubt as Gasol and Andrew Harrison (23 points) made enough shots to make the Grizzlies a threat.
Each time, though, Rubio and Hood bailed the Jazz out. Rubio scored a game-high 29 points, grabbing eight rebounds and handing out three assists. He shot 8 of 16 from the field and made 11 of 14 from the free-throw line.
And with Donovan Mitchell struggling with his shot, Hood came off the bench to score 18 points. He made all eight of his foul shots, and went 5 of 12 from the field. Rubio, Hood and Joe Johnson all made timely shots down the stretch to give the Jazz the breathing room they needed while the defense did the rest.
“I thought Rudy did a terrific job on Gasol,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “The defensive boards were an emphasis for us coming in. We did a huge job of not putting ourselves in positions to foul by just being solid.”
A little over two weeks ago, Utah’s season was screeching out of control with a 19-28 record. Now, the Jazz are 26-28 and have swept their first road trip this season of at least four games.
The Jazz have drawn within 2 1/2 games of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Three of their last four games heading into the All-Star break will be at home.
“We didn’t play our best, but to win, this is a great feeling,” Gobert said. “This is our first road trip without a loss this season. So we have to build on that and keep getting better.”