SALT LAKE CITY — Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Gordon Hayward generally garner the lion's share of attention from media members in the Utah Jazz locker room.
But the quiet man who makes 'em go, and a guy who usually lets his game do most of his talking for him, is veteran point guard Devin Harris, whose resurgence in the second half of the regular season coincided with Utah's late push for the playoffs. Indeed, if you said as Harris goes, so go the Jazz, you wouldn't be wrong.
After the All-Star break in late-February, Harris raised virtually all of his statistical averages — some of them by a remarkable difference — across the board. His scoring average jumped by almost 5 points per game after the break, and he also raised his assists, rebounds, 3-point shooting and free throws by sizable margins, too.
There was a key stretch of 10 games from Feb. 6 to Feb. 26 when Harris really made his presence felt, and it's more than coincidence the Jazz went 7-3 over that stretch to nail down their postseason spot. Harris scored 20 or more points six times during that span, and the Jazz won five of those six games.
"It starts at the point," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said Saturday morning at Zions Bank Basketball Center, where the team practiced before leaving for San Antonio for today's playoff series-opener against the Spurs. "If you get great play from your point guard on both ends of the floor, you have a chance to succeed.
"He got comfortable, man, and we were able to put the ball in his hands more. He was able to push the ball in transition and get some easy baskets there. And defensively, he just took it upon himself to stay in front of guys and be more aggressive on the ball, and he's done a great job there, too."
Harris' 3-point shooting became a great weapon in Utah's offense late in the season — during that 10-game stretch, he went a combined 16-of-20 from beyond the arc in wins over Golden State, Dallas and Portland — and Harris also started taking the ball much harder to the basket than he'd been doing earlier in the season.
"It was bound to come," Harris said of his personal late-season resurgence, attributing it to being more aggressive and getting more of an opportunity to do his thing. "It probably came later than I wanted it to. It doesn't matter what turned it around, as long as the turnaround occurred.
"Guys got more aggressive on the perimeter and I think that helped us out a lot."
Jefferson, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, said it took Harris — acquired by Utah in February 2011 in the trade that sent Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets — awhile to adjust his style to the Jazz offense. And once he did that, Jefferson says it was Harris who definitely was the difference-maker for the Jazz down the stretch.
"I just think Devin finally put his game into this offense," Big Al said. "This is a different type of offense for a guy like Devin. When he came here, he's normally a free guy who we just set picks and get him the ball and he gets his shots. This offense is more of a system. I think he just had to learn how to combine the two, put his game into this offense, and that's what he's been doing lately.
"He's the reason, by him stepping up, that we had a chance to make the playoffs. Because when we've got guys double-teaming on the bigs, you've got to have somebody who can hit that outside shot and put pressure on their defense by penetrating. So if it wasn't for him stepping up and finding it the way he did, we probably wouldn't be here right now talking about the playoffs.
"I never panicked about him," Jefferson said. "I knew that Devin could play and I knew that Devin had his game, I just knew he had to find his way in this offense. I had to do the same, but lucky for me this offense is made for a big man. So it didn't take me as long as it took him, but he got it — better late than never."
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