Utah Jazz push back into playoff position with a big road win over Warriors
OAKLAND, Calif. — On Sunday afternoon, the San Francisco Giants received their 2012 World Series rings in a pregame ceremony at AT&T Park.
Later in the evening, the Golden State Warriors were hoping to add to the festive atmosphere by clinching their first playoff berth since 2007 and only their second in 19 years.
The Utah Jazz made sure the Bay Area didn't have two postseason celebrations on the same day.
Coupled with the Lakers' loss earlier in the day, the Jazz dramatically improved their own chances of extending their play this spring.
Despite so many road stumbles this season, the Jazz played poised under pressure at Oracle Arena, getting a huge block by Derrick Favors and an even huger 3-point dagger by Mo Williams in the closing moments of an impressive 97-90 victory over the Warriors.
"Celebrate against another team," Favors said, "but not against us."
By the way, the Jazz's dynamite defender, who had 12 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, said that about an hour before tipoff of this wild win at Oracle Arena.
"I told you," he said with a slight smile in the locker room after the victory.
It helped that Favors and the Jazz also showed that type of confident swagger on the court during the game.
"I can't say enough about this group of guys. This was all about them and them wanting it, and the way they came out," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "Although we made some mistakes in the game, everybody laid everything they had in them out there on the floor tonight. And as a result, we were able to get a good win."
Good win is understating it.
Four games remain, including a tough home contest against Oklahoma City on Tuesday and a season-ending matchup in Memphis on April 17, but this was closer to being a gargantuan win than a good win.
For one thing, it was only the Jazz's 12th win away from EnergySolutions Arena this year. It was also the streaking team's seventh victory in eight games.
As a bonus, the team down in SoCal that they're jostling with for that final playoff spot not only lost to the Clippers but also saw the Jazz leapfrog them for the No. 8 position out West.
Utah (41-37) only has to have a combination of four wins or four losses by the Lakers (40-37) to earn a playoff berth over Kobe & Co. The Warriors (44-33) will have to wait another day to shave their good-luck beards and earn their rare postseason spot.
"We had one goal," Williams said, "and that's to come out and try to get the win."
Williams, who scored a game-high 25 points and was as big in this one as he was in the victory at Portland 10 days ago, all but clinched the victory by sinking a 27-foot bucket with 13.4 seconds remaining to give the Jazz a six-point lead.
"That's his shot," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "That was a big shot. That’s what he do."
That timely dagger came the sequence after Favors made Corbin's decision to sub him in for defensive purposes look inspired. Not only did the 6-10 big man rudely interrupt a Warriors' pick-and-roll play, but he then spoiled the home team's playoff party by swatting Draymond Green's desperation drive after he'd busted up Golden State's offensive plans.
Wait. Green, a rookie reserve who played less than four minutes, took a clutch shot instead of Steph Curry (22 points), David Lee (21 points) or Klay Thompson (20 points) with the game up for grabs?
Thank Favors, Jazz fans.
"The two MVPs of the game were Mo Williams on the offensive end and Derrick Favors controlled the game defensively," Jazz guard Randy Foye said. "Derrick did a great job, especially at the end of the game."
That goes for the team, too.
Utah, a squad that struggled more on the road more than a nervous 15-year-old driver's ed student for most of this season, withstood an early offensive onslaught by Curry.
The Jazz didn't buckle when Thompson got hot in the second half or when Lee, Jarrett Jack or Carl Landry threatened to push the momentum in the Warriors' favor.
These, well, re-born road warriors didn't even cave under the pressure in the fourth quarter like they had in so many previous losses away from home — like in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Chicago, etc.
This time, the Jazz looked and acted like a playoff team when the game was on the line. Jefferson contributed 19 points, 12 rebounds and five assists; Hayward had 13 points and six dishes; and Utah's defense limited Golden State to 21 points in each of the final three quarters.
"I just think that we're playing with a sense of urgency," Foye said. "We understand what is at stake and the position we're in, and we really want this. There's no quit in any of us and we're going to continue to fight every single night."
The Warriors noticed.
Every time Golden State pushed and tested Utah, the Jazz answered.
Sometimes it was Jefferson jumpers or free throws, a Paul Millsap bucket or 3-pointers from Jamaal Tinsley, Foye, Hayward and Williams.
Other times, it was DeMarre Carroll's trademark hustle plays or a Tinsley steal or Corbin subbing Favors in for Big Al with 55 seconds remaining.
"I think they outplayed us. They played like a team that their playoff lives depended on this game," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "We played, at times, like a team that had a cushion. I think that was the bottom line."
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