SALT LAKE — Tyrone Corbin knows he has critics. He's also well aware his players have been feeling the heat from frustrated fans, media and backseat NBA observers during the Utah Jazz's recent struggles.
With fire in his eyes and a feisty tone, the third-year Jazz coach shared a message about that before Monday's tipoff. It's one he's been giving his team, which had lost four straight and seven of eight games before the schedule mercifully pitted the Jazz against the Detroit Pistons.
"I tell the guys, 'You can listen to criticism, but most of the people that's criticizing don't have an idea of what you're going through,'" Corbin said in his pregame media interview. "They probably haven't never did anything at this level in their life. They can talk. Talk is cheap. We've got to go out and do what we've got to do."
For a change, the Jazz did that.
After a slow start, Utah handled an outmatched but scrappy Pistons team 103-90 at EnergySolutions Arena.
Nobody's about to plan a championship parade anytime soon, but the victory snapped a gut-wrenching, emotional-taxing losing streak.
Corbin admitted it was "absolutely" a relief to watch his team end with a positive result.
It was good for the team to watch Mo Williams score 20 points and dish out six assists in his first game in Utah since December.
The Jazz were grateful for Al Jefferson's 16 points and 10 rebounds. A big bench boost that included a combined 28 points and 14 rebounds for Marvin Williams and Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward's 13 points and an energizing Jeremy Evans performance (eight points, seven rebounds, five assists) was a welcome sight.
"You want to make sure you get a win to break the slide," Corbin said. "So we'll start a new streak of winning. It feels better getting one, but we've still got a lot of work to do."
For a night, though, the team thoroughly enjoyed playing hard, having fun and winning.
A sure sign that things were back to normal for a night — an outcome that put the Jazz (33-31) back into the eighth spot out West with the Lakers (33-31) — was the fact players ruthlessly teased Kanter for his wardrobe in the locker room.
The eclectic and outgoing Turkish center, who sparked the Jazz's game-changing second-quarter 20-8 run — sported a fedora hat, a sparkling gold jacket, blue jeans and snake shoes.
"His game is just getting better and better. He's getting the confidence," Jefferson said of Kanter, who had 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and eight rebounds. "I've just got to get him to that point where he stays consistent and just be ready night in and night out, and he's getting there. I think he did well."
On the court, at least.
"As far as his outfit, he got his own style," Big Al said. "He make it look good. It's not like it don't look good on him. He's just got his own style."
Though the Jazz put on a good face last week while blowing three late-game leads during their 0-4 Eastern Conference road trip, it was obvious a weight had been lifted off their shoulders after they won for only the second time in nine games and for the first time since March 1.
"I think we're going to make the playoffs," an optimistic Kanter said. "With this game, I think we're going to start a game-winning streak."
It got a bit iffy against the Pistons, who played all the game without injured starter Jason Maxiell (ankle) and most of the night without injured guard Brandon Knight (first-quarter ankle sprain).
Detroit whittled Utah's one-time lead of 18 down to five in the fourth quarter, and it appeared the Jazz might've entered meltdown mode yet again.
A tough Hayward turnaround shot temporarily halted the Pistons' progress, and then Mo Williams all but clinched it by nailing a 3-pointer and another long jumper in a 6-0 run that put Utah up 94-82 with four minutes remaining.
It capped what was by far Williams' best game since returning from his 32-game absence last Wednesday.
"It just takes some time to get your rhythm back and for the guys to read him because we have changed a tremendous amount since he got hurt; the team has grown in different ways," Corbin said of Williams, who hit 9 of 14 shots. "I thought he had some great minutes to close the game and made some big shots for us."
But the warning from Corbin to his players remains the same.
"I tell our guys, 'A lot of people, they're going to pile on. That's what they do. That's what sells,'" Corbin said. "We have to make sure (we remember) who we are, what's at hand and play our game."
And keep that belief in the locker room that a postseason is possible no matter what outsiders say.
That was a point Corbin made in the pregame that appeared even more convincing after the Jazz came through in the clutch.
"We're still in the big picture. We're still developing. We're still learning. We're still in the battle," Corbin said. "Although guys think it's over, that's not in our locker room. We'll still working and trying to get better as we have been all year. We've made some mistakes. We've had some successes. We'll get this thing figured out and continue to work."17 comments on this story
NOTES: Not only did Evans have a career-high five assists, but he also played the entire fourth quarter, even hitting a key jumper down the stretch. "It was great to see Jeremy step up, play good," Big Al said. "You can tell his confidence is getting there." The Jazz outshot the Pistons 51.9 percent to 42.5 percent and outrebounded the visitors 47-30. Paul Millsap (bruised right patella/quadriceps tendon) and Jamaal Tinsley (illness) did not dress. New Jazz guard Travis Leslie, signed to a 10-day contract Sunday, was in uniform but did not play.