Mo, man, you can tell he’s back in his groove. He’s playing the way he wants to play. He’s scoring the ball well, keeping people involved, playing great ‘D’ in my opinion. It’s all to him. Everybody else is kind of jumping on his bandwagon. —Al Jefferson, Jazz center
SALT LAKE CITY — By the end of the third quarter Monday night, Mo Williams had already made five 3-pointers. So when he got the ball on the possession his fifth triple, the volume inside EnergySolutions Arena increased, anticipating a heat-check attempt from beyond the arc.
It came. It went in.
While the home fans erupted, Williams’ own expression was businesslike. “This isn’t new,” it seemed to say. “I was an All-Star once, you know.”
All-Star or not, on target or not, Williams’ confidence in Utah’s win over Portland (their fifth win in a row) didn’t seem any different than when he shot 4-for-14 in a home loss to New York all of 12 days ago (which kicked off a four-game losing streak).
What has changed has been his pre-game routine. The 11-year veteran recently abandoned the brace he wore after returning from a thumb injury in early March, and admitted his “next-day recovery has been better” in recent days.
There has also been a mental adjustment, one that is likely easier than it was at the beginning of the season, when Williams was just learning the offense from the point guard position.
Now, Wiliams says, he’s stopped overthinking.
“I’m just playing. I’m not even thinking about it,” Williams said. “I’m not even thinking about it at all. Just letting the plays happen. Letting my natural ability happen instead of thinking, wondering what I want to do and what type of play I want to run that night. I’m just letting the defense dictate that.”
Head coach Tyrone Corbin has helped by injecting more pick-and-rolls into Utah’s offense. The adjustment gives Williams more opportunities to create while putting less pressure on Jefferson and, subsequently, Utah’s spot-up shooting.
Against Portland, Williams ran a near tutorial on the play, making sure to brush the screener shoulder to shoulder every time he used the pick. Williams’ defender, afraid to go under the screen and give up a wide-open jump shot, repeatedly tried to go over the screen instead.
Williams’ usage of the pick, however, left no space for his defender to squeeze through and make up ground, essentially eliminating him from the play and creating a two-on-one advantage every time.
The result? Nine assists to go along with his 20 points, marking the fourth time in the last seven games Williams has logged at least eight assists. It was also just the sixth time all season Williams has committed one turnover or less.
Williams’ increased efficiency hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“He’s doing a great job of pushing the pace for us,” Corbin said. “He came down and made a lot of 3-point shots for us tonight, but he’s orchestrating the offense he’s controlling the tempo of the game for us, and that’s great.”
Jazz forward Al Jefferson was one of the main beneficiaries on Monday, finishing with a game-high 24 points. He was on the receiving end of a playground-style pass from Williams, a no-look, backwards pass on the fastbreak, which Jefferson converted with a one-handed slam.
“Mo, man, you can tell he’s back in his groove,” Jefferson said. “He’s playing the way he wants to play. He’s scoring the ball well, keeping people involved, playing great ‘D’ in my opinion. It’s all to him. Everybody else is kind of jumping on his bandwagon.”
It’s a bandwagon that can seem empty if Williams/Utah is on a cold streak, since it’s often Williams’ play that determines the Jazz’s success — or lack thereof.
But Jefferson was wholehearted in saying that Williams’ success — and the confidence it generates — resonates with the entire team.
“It’s very contagious,” Jefferson said. “It starts with him. When he’s playing well, he’s got everybody around him moving well, playing well, passing the ball well.”
Williams acknowledged he might not score 20 points every night, as he’s done for the last three games. He knows the Jazz’s current five-game win streak will, at some point, end.
For now, however, he’s simply enjoying his own and the team’s change in fortune, intending to see both extend as far as they can.
“It’s not going to be like (Monday’s win) every night, but it’s fun to be on a roll when you get it consistently each and every night,” Williams said. “We went through a stretch where we didn’t get it each and every night, so it’s fun to be on the other side where we can get consecutive wins.”
Matt Petersen is the Sports Web Editor for DeseretNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheMattPetersen.