If we do the right things and we continue to stay together and count on each other. —Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Utah Jazz went from one team-building experience to another in their two-day stay in Tennessee.
On Saturday night, they bonded off the court while visiting the National Civil Rights Museum and having a team dinner together in this Southern cuisine hotspot.
Their unity carried over into the FedEx Forum on Sunday night, when the Jazz made a brutal back-to-back-to-back road trip a bit less brutal by earning a commanding 98-88 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
"If we do the right things and we continue to stay together and count on each other," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said, "this is the kind of basketball we can play."
Corbin had called this three-states-in-three-nights journey a "whirlwind" earlier in the day, and the Jazz only hope they blow through games at New Orleans (tonight) and Oklahoma City (Tuesday) with similar force, effort and togetherness.
Utah snapped a three-game losing streak overall, and a four-game road skid with this impressive win in which the team shot 50.6 percent and dished out 26 assists.
"We're going to have to keep working, keep trying to work this road thing out," Corbin said. "But tonight is a great indication of what we can do. If we stay together and focus on the little parts of the game that we need to continue to get better at, we have a great chance to win."
Their chances will increase if they continue to get individual performances within the team play that they did in particular from Gordon Hayward and Al Jefferson.
Hayward continued his strong play of late, scoring a season-high 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting while dishing out five assists with two steals.
"He (was) the Butler Gordon," Jefferson said, smiling. "I told him he's here for a reason. He was drafted high for a reason. He just got to go out there and do his thing and that's what he did tonight."
Hayward credited his defensive aggressiveness for opening up a confident, in-rhythm offensive game, which came into play early with a steal-and-slam followed by a 3-pointer that put Utah up 7-0.
"That's the Gordon that we need — to be aggressive and to make plays," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "He's a playmaker."
And then there was Big Al.
Jefferson insisted he wasn't determined to prove naysayers wrong or upstage Memphis counterpart and All-Star-bound Marc Gasol, but his monster game did just that.
Utah's 6-foot-10 center scored 21 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in helping the slumping Jazz improve their record to 14-12.
Gasol, who just earned his first All-Star bid, had a less-impactful 17 points and nine boards for the 14-14 Grizzlies.
"It wasn't no personal battle," said Jefferson, who hit 10 of 17 shots and spread out four assists. "It was just a game that we had to win."
Millsap added 16 points and eight boards, while Raja Bell tallied 10 points — hitting a 3-pointer for the 14th consecutive game — and Devin Harris chipped in with nine points and three steals.
As a team, the Jazz made 42 of 83 field goals — improving to 6-0 when hitting half of their shots in a game — and distributed the ball terrifically with 26 assists.
The Grizzlies, led by Rudy Gay's 22 points, only shot 43.6 percent. But it was Utah's quick start — up 22-10 early — that set the tone.
"We lean on our home arena's energy. We were able to bring some of our own tonight," Hayward said. "And we've got to do that the next night and then again the next night. It will be a tough challenge (tonight), but I'm looking forward to it."
The Jazz played their best all-around game in some time, looking much more like a possible playoff contender than a team that had lost five of six games and stumbled out of the top eight in the West.
"We have proved to ourself that we can play like this," Jefferson said. "So there should be no excuse why (tonight) we can't pick up where we left off. This is not play good one game and take three off."
In fact, Jefferson said the Jazz, beginning Sunday, need to win at least five of the seven games, if not all, before the upcoming All-Star break.
"We've go to do it," Jefferson said. "We talk about being a playoff team. We talk about being one of the top teams in the West. We've got to pay like we did tonight. No excuses."
Corbin chuckled when asked if the team would visit a museum in New Orleans, say perhaps, the Big Easy-based World War II exhibit, as suggested on Twitter by Jazz fan Paul Cherrington.
"Whatever we need to do to stay together," Corbin said, laughing. "We're going to have breakfast (today) instead of going over to the gym, so maybe it's an opportunity for us to have a little tour or something around the hotel."10 comments on this story
Added Corbin, whose team flew to Louisiana after Sunday's game: "We might have to go by there (the museum). We'll see. Maybe just a brief little walk through."