Inside, the Jazz off to the NBA's best start despite dropping their last two outings took issue with those suggesting they looked like garbage in losses Saturday at Golden State and Monday to Orlando.
Utah made its case by beating San Antonio 83-75 Wednesday night, doing so behind the challenged-by-a-teammate play of power forward Carlos Boozer and a moving rah-rah speech delivered pre-game by veteran guard Derek Fisher.
"He told us that if we want to be recognized and we want to become a team that's gonna be reckoned with, that we've got to beat teams like this, that these are games we've got to show up for," point guard Deron Williams said after the beating the 1999, 2003 and 2005 NBA-champion Spurs. "And then he pulled out ... one of his championship rings and showed us (that) if we want to be like them, we've got to bring it night in and night out."
The message, according to Fisher, came with a purpose.
"Sometimes when things are going bad, you lose sight of the goal of why we're all here. You get so focused into one loss, or two losses, or one week, and I think you lose sight of how long the season is, and what the objective is," he said. "So, I just wanted to remind the guys that there's a bigger purpose here don't get so caught up in what we did the last couple games, let's go ahead and play against a team that knows how to be champions ... and show them we're capable of getting to that level as well."
As it turns out, the Jazz who improved to 13-3, and avoided falling into a tie with the now 11-5 Spurs and 12-4 Magic for the league's best didn't start out too terrifically.
Utah was down by as many as 10 points in the second quarter, and went into the break trailing by two. But the Jazz rebounded after halftime and took the lead for good when Boozer hit a Matt Harpring-fed 16-footer with just more than six minutes remaining.
Boozer wound up with a 21-point, 16-rebound double-double as the Jazz out-rebounded San Antonio 50-34 but, perhaps more importantly, he gave Spurs star Tim Duncan fits on both ends of the floor.
"I told him before the game that's one of the guys that can keep him out of the All-Star Game," Williams said. "And you see what he (Boozer) did."
Duncan, a two-time NBA MVP, finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds but in the fourth quarter he had just one board and went scoreless with only two shots from the field.
"I know Boozer has a lot to prove this year, and he's playing like it," Williams added, aware the Jazz's scoring and rebounding leader this season has missed much of the past two with injuries. "He was upset last year about not being able to play, and not being with us. Then all the people were talking about how he was faking injuries, and things like that and then you see what he's doing now. He came out with a vengeance."
Williams and Harpring finished similarly.
With the Jazz still up just one and less than five minutes to go, Harpring scored with a nicely delivered Andrei Kirilenko pass and added a 15-footer to make it 73-68.
After San Antonio sharpshooter Bruce Bowen hit one of his five 3-pointers to get the Spurs back within two, Williams responded. He sliced and twisted his way through the lane for a layup, and followed with one of his own four treys.
San Antonio point Tony Parker made a layup to keep the Spurs close, but after Harpring drove the baseline with the follow of his own miss and Mehmet Okur knocked down a trey, the Jazz were able to take satisfaction in meeting Fisher's challenge.
"We respect Fish so much because of all he's accomplished," Williams said of Fisher, who spent most of his career with the team the Jazz visit tonight, the Los Angeles Lakers. "He's won three championships. He's a great guy. He's a lockerroom guy. He's a leader. He's meant so much to this team and for him to come out and say that, I think it hit guys and made them realize what we need to do ... and (that) we can't take nights off like we have the last two (games)."
Cannot, in other words, leave themselves susceptible to being trashed by critics.
"We have a team that in recent years has gone through tough times after getting off to good starts from injuries, and other things that have kind of eaten away at the fabric of the team," Fisher, knowing the Jazz finished with just 26 wins after opening 6-1 two seasons ago, said in explaining why he chose Wednesday to show off his 2002 title ring. "So, there's no sense getting into any worse spot than we were already in. You know catch it early.... I'm glad it helped."
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