SALT LAKE CITY – After that 20-point loss to a lousy Detroit team Monday night -- perhaps the worst performance of the season for a young Utah Jazz team -- it could have gone a couple of different directions Wednesday night against Memphis, one of the hottest teams in the NBA.
They could have come out fired up, anxious to make up for the dreadful loss two nights earlier. Or they could have continued their funk, sinking deeper into the abyss of a team going nowhere this season.
Fortunately for Utah, it was the former, as a determined Jazz team played inspired from the start. Unfortunately it didn’t result in a victory as Memphis rallied in the final minutes to defeat the Jazz 91-87 at EnergySolutions Arena in the late-starting, nationally-televised contest.
Utah had led the entire game, only to see the Grizzlies go on a 12-0 run between the 4:01 and :59 marks to take a five-point lead the Jazz couldn’t overcome.
Zach Randolph led the way for Memphis with 22 points and 13 rebounds, Mike Conley scored 19 and Marc Gasol added 18.
Utah got three double-doubles from its starters as Derrick Favors had 22 points and 10 rebounds, Enes Kanter came up with 11 points and 15 rebounds, while Trey Burke had 11 points and 10 assists.
Gordon Hayward finished with 18 points and four steals, while Richard Jefferson scored 15 points, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range.
As disappointed as Utah coach Tyrone Corbin and his players were to have lost a game they controlled for more than 40 minutes, they were happy with their overall performance, especially compared to Monday night’s abysmal effort.
“I’m pleased the way the guys came back and fought tonight,’’ Corbin said. “We made a couple of mistakes down the stretch that cost us a little bit. They made the plays, given them credit.’’
Rookie Trey Burke said the team wanted to put Monday’s performance behind them with a strong effort Wednesday night, which they did.
“Tonight was going to be about going out and competing with heart,’’ Burke said. “We left it out there for 48 minutes, that’s one thing I can say. We played hard and we can learn from this loss going on this two-game road trip.’’
Favors was determined to make up for a poor game against Detroit when he scored just four points.
“On Monday I felt I played a terrible game and let my teammates down and tonight I just wanted to come out and be aggressive against a good team,’’ said Favors. “I thought we had that one, we let it get away from us. But give them credit, they made the plays down the stretch.’’
Memphis first-year coach Dave Joerger was impressed with the way the Jazz played, particularly their two big men.
“They played hard from start to finish,’’ he said. “They competed. When you look at Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, they tried to say to Marc and Zach, ‘We’re the new bigs on the block and we’re coming.’ They were fantastic all game long . . . very active, very aggressive. They’re going to be a good team going forward.’’
Coming off that embarrassing 114-94 loss Monday night to a Detroit team that came into ESA having lost 13 straight road games, it didn’t look too hopeful for Utah against a Memphis team that had compiled a 27-9 record since Jan. 10 and moved up to the seventh spot in the competitive Western Conference.
The Jazz showed much more energy than Monday, right from the start in taking a 25-17 lead after one quarter. The Grizzlies crept within four in the second quarter, but the Jazz extended the lead to 10 by halftime at 50-40. Favors led the scoring with 14 and Kanter had 12 rebounds to go with eight points.
By the midway point of the third quarter, the Jazz had extended their lead to 16 at 65-49 before the Grizzlies cut the lead to 71-62 by the end of the quarter.
When Favors threw down a dunk with 4:22 left, the Jazz still led 84-77. But the Jazz got stuck on 84 as the Grizzlies ran off 12 straight points over the next three minutes.
Conley hit a jumper, Gasol sank a pair of free throws and Mike Miller sank a 3-pointer to tie the score. Then the Grizzlies took their first lead since the opening minutes on a 3-second defensive technical foul shot, followed by baskets by Randolph and Gasol.
“I thought that one Mike Miller made there at the end was a huge shot,’’ said Corbin.
During that 12-0 run, the Jazz missed four shots and turned the ball over and a layup by Favors with 50 seconds left broke the three-and-a-half-minute drought.
Burke had a chance to cut the lead to one with 15 seconds left, but made just one of two free throws and Randolph added a pair of free throws for the Grizzlies.
Next up for the Jazz are a pair of road games at New Orleans Friday and Oklahoma City Sunday. The next home game is Monday against the New York Knicks. The Jazz have just 11 games left in the season.