Just when the possession was falling apart, Royce O’Neale grabbed the ball and drilled a pass to Derrick Favors, whose dunk assured the Jazz of their longest winning streak of the Quin Snyder coaching era.
That’s how well things are working out lately for the Jazz, whose ability to salvage this season came into serious question in mid-January. They suddenly launched a run that now numbers eight victories, including a 106-94 defeat of Charlotte at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The latest win probably could have come more easily against a tired opponent. Even so, it was a good illustration of what the Jazz are doing these days. Every memorable play, including another ferocious Donovan Mitchell dunk in the second quarter and Favors’ clinching throwdown, came via an assist in what forever will be known in Jazz history as the Derrick Rose (Inactive) Game.
I’m saving the lineup sheet that shows the onetime league MVP as a temporary member of the Jazz, pending the completion of a three-team deal that will result in Rose’s being waived and Jae Crowder joining the team’s rotation. In the absence of the just-traded Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson, Joe Ingles scored a career-high 23 points to go with Mitchell’s 25.
So a little more than two weeks after their season bottomed out, the Jazz are enjoying their longest winning streak since a nine-gamer in 2010. The last win of that run came Feb. 9, powered by Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, whose last season together ended with a 53-29 record and a playoff series victory. The current Jazz (27-28) have more modest credentials, remaining two games out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The trend, though? Encouraging.
“We’re definitely in the playoff hunt,” Favors said. “Guys are playing better, the team as a whole is playing better. Defensively, we’ve been great; offensively, things are clicking for us.”
This reclamation project started two days after the Jazz crumbled in the second half of a Jan. 22 loss at Atlanta. The dreadful performance suggested this season was beyond saving.
As Snyder said Friday, looking back, “You want to lose a certain way, if that makes sense.”
Or just stop losing, period.
Snyder’s message after that game? “Let’s just compete and not worry about anything else.”
Apparently, that’s all it took. The Jazz launched their recovery with an overtime win at Detroit after coming from nine points down in the last two minutes of regulation. Snyder frames that as the Ricky Rubio Gash Game, with the point guard showing toughness in coming back from a cut above his eye.
As it happened, the Jazz lost Rubio to a hip injury midway through Friday’s third quarter, after he already posted seven assists. Pick your favorite moment of this game, and it featured a good pass from Rubio, Ingles, Raul Neto or Alec Burks. These guys have become enjoyable to watch again, and they’re being rewarded with wins.
Snyder has kept this team together and prevented the season from disintegrating. The playoff push will be fun, once Crowder fits into the program. The Jazz may miss some offense from Hood and Johnson, but getting Crowder is a future-oriented move that also should provide some immediate returns.
This thing is salvageable, after all. The Jazz have proven that ever since they rallied against the Pistons.
“And I think they just fed off each other,” Snyder said. “Just being in the moment, kind of staying hunkered down on our group and then gaining some confidence. … When you throw yourself into the group, shots are easier, plays are easier, defense becomes more collective. And to me, as best as I can tell, that’s where we’ve gone.”
This team is going somewhere. Nobody could have said that, until the Jazz fought back in Detroit and just kept winning.