Utah Jazz make big changes in an even bigger win over the Grizzlies
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz were in desperate need of big changes — and sooner rather than later.
Their confidence was waning.
Their losses were piling up.
Their postseason chances were dwindling by the day.
Not to get political, but they needed about as much change as Barack Obama promised before being voted in as the country's president.
"Tonight is a playoff game for us. It's a must-win for us," Jazz point guard Mo Williams said after Saturday morning's shootaround. "We know where we are as a team. We know where we want to get. We know what we have to do to get there."
More showings like Saturday, and they'll get there.
For a change, the Jazz earned a hard-fought victory, gutting out a 90-84 win over the Memphis Grizzlies at EnergySolutions Arena.
"We needed a win against anybody," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We are where we are. We need to win our share of games out to have a chance to make the playoffs. Great win here on our home court against a quality ball club. We have to continue it."
In other words, the Jazz need to keep playing like the changed team that made an impressive appearance on Saturday night.
Change was definitely the theme of the evening.
The first change came before the game when Corbin decided to tinker with the lineup yet again and put Gordon Hayward in the starting small forward spot instead of DeMarre Carroll or Marvin Williams.
Outcome: positive result.
Hayward scored a team-high 17 points, including a game-clinching 3-pointer with 17.3 seconds remaining.
"We needed to make sure we came in and were the aggressor," said Hayward, who had eight rebounds and three assists. "They are good defensively themselves and are physical. We wanted to make sure we punched first, and I thought we did that tonight."
Another change: the Jazz's defensive effort.
Outcome: positive result.
After allowing 105.5 points in eight recent losses, Utah's D had one of its best outings in some time, limiting Memphis to nine points in the pivotal third quarter and holding the visitors to 42.9 percent shooting.
If Hayward's clutch three was the offensive play of the game, then the defensive highlight came on the previous play.
Memphis guard Jerryd Bayless scored eight of his game-high 24 points in a late flurry, cutting a seemingly safe 87-76 Jazz lead with three minutes remaining down to 87-84 with one minute to go.
After Al Jefferson missed two free throws, Bayless had the ball in his hands with a chance to force overtime.
But Big Al and Hayward forced Bayless to backpedal out of a high double-team. Mo Williams then picked up on a nicely executed defensive switch, and pressured Bayless into making a turnover to give the Jazz the ball back with 38.4 seconds left.
That was just one example of many stellar defensive plays on this night, which included an early shot-clock violation on Memphis after relentless perimeter D by Jefferson and Williams.
"I am extremely happy with the aggressive play — understanding how we had to play against this team with their hands on us and how we had to match that intensity," Corbin said. "I thought all the guys came in and just played extremely well — on the defensive end, especially."
The extra effort helped the Jazz improve to 34-32 and move within a half-game of the Lakers (35-32) for the West's final playoff spot.
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