Gordon Monson: The Jazz pull off what only great teams can. They defy the basketball gods.
Late surge against the Hornets shows how good this team can be.
(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) throws a pass out to the perimeter, as Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball (2) defends, in NBA action between the Utah Jazz and the Charlotte Hornets at Vivint Arena, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.
What the Jazz achieved in their last win was … frightening. It was horrifying for opponents. It was the kind of showing that should put the fear of a higher power in the hearts of every NBA foe.
Over the final minutes, Rudy Gobert triggered something in himself and his teammates, all of whom had been just casually kind of fiddling and faddling around against the Charlotte Hornets, playing as though they were a bunch of veteran electricians and lawyers and account execs and pizza delivery guys playing in their 40-and-over rec league. They looked as though they had more pressing matters rolling around in their heads — Did I pay the power bill? Did I remember to pick up the fruit and vegetables the wife wanted from the market earlier in the day? Did I get the oil changed in the Buick like I was supposed to? — and they were dawdling on the floor together just to get some light jogging in.
As Tribune beat writer Eric Walden eloquently wrote
, the Jazz played listless basketball, making just about every mistake a team possibly could — over most of the initial three quarters. Soft, unengaged, non-communicative defense, yes. Sloppy handling and passing of the ball, yes. Turnovers galore, yes. Careless, irresponsible shot-taking, yes. The look and form of a team that might get ousted from the playoffs in the first round, yes.
And then … no, no, no, no, and oh, no way.
The Jazz, inside of a few possessions, finishing up the third quarter straight ahead into and through the fourth, transformed from a guppy into a Great White.
It was that dramatic, that astounding, that scary.
Gobert’s defense was at the core of it
, as he blocked shots and dissuaded others from being even attempted, and that example spilled over onto most of his teammates. And like all quality coaches say, that resistance sparked offensive explosions. We’re talking deep ball after deep ball after deep ball after deep ball.
And once all that flowing and splashing and chomping happened by way of a 26-2 run, the Great White swam away, fully sated, with a 22-point victory in the belly.
All the earlier tripping and fumbling and goofing forgotten.
Donovan Mitchell said afterward that that’s what No. 1 teams do, if not the first part, the second. But he included both parts in his evaluation.
Some nights are going to be duds — for awhile. Bad shots are going to be launched and missed. Assignments are going to be blown. Transition defense is going to be more a suggestion than a rule. Pick-and-roll D is going to look like someone got lost in the woods.
But what Mitchell was saying is that can and must be overcome, when called for. That’s what Great White teams do. That’s exactly what Mitchell and Gobert and Jordan Clarkson and Georges Niang and Joe Ingles and Mike Conley did.
They reversed their fortune late in the stream.
And in some ways that’s more impressive than when a team is flat feeling it from the opening tip. Some nights are like that, too. Everything is working, everything is popping, everything is dusting the net, everything is a party.
What the Jazz did was turn mighty mo’, the way an individual player might go oh-fer for 36 minutes, and then, when necessary, hit everything he throws up over the last 12.
Essentially, that’s telling the basketball gods to go do unmentionable things to themselves. They can send bad vibes any which way they want, but it’s not going to affect the outcome.
No, that’s controlled only by the guys with the ball actually in their hands and full focus in their minds. The groceries can wait. So can the oil change and the power bill.
Instead, a franchise record number of 3-pointers (28) is dropped on the noggin of the Hornets. Instead, the Jazz rack up 34 assists. Instead, Gobert gets six blocks. Instead, Charlotte’s shooters find themselves crammed into a shoebox. Instead, the Jazz bench goes for 66 points, including a 7-for-7 showing from 3 by Niang. Instead, the Jazz take what they will and give nothing back because they know they can.
That sort of thinking can be a wicked competitive advantage, as long as it’s not relied upon on the reg. Too much casual play, too much carelessness can exact its revenge, too. The basketball gods can be greedy.
But for the Utah Jazz, it’s a beautiful thing, knowing they can dial in and get their business done, even when it appears from the outside in that they cannot and that they will not.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.