MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When it mattered most Saturday night, the stark differences between the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies became evident.
One team came up with clutch play after clutch play in crunch time.
One team exerted both energy and poise on both ends of the court.
One team played like a team that can do damage in the postseason.
And the other team?
It certainly didn't quit and tried hard — admirably so, considering circumstances from a schedule standpoint and its injury situation — but was unable to deliver with the game on the line.
Oh yeah, and that one team also had O.J. Mayo.
The Condiment was the stark difference-maker in separating his Grizzlies team from the visiting Jazz team, who were outmatched and outplayed in the fourth quarter of a 103-98 loss at FedEx Forum.
"They're a playoff team," Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said. "They're where we want to be."
Mayo's 17-point fourth quarter — including a backbreaking 3-pointer over Hayward that put Memphis up 98-94 with 45.8 seconds remaining — made the road to get there this year all the tougher for Utah.
The Jazz fell to 31-30, putting them two games behind Houston and Denver (both 32-27) for the West's final playoff spots. The Rockets and Nuggets have a back-to-back duel beginning today and each has seven games remaining, but the Jazz's playoff hopes are on virtual life support.
"We're not out of it (playoff race) by no stretch of the imagination," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "Plus, we want to continue to grow as a team. These experiences at this time of the year are invaluable to us. Getting in a game situation, a pressure situation, to learn and grow and (figure out) how to play with the young group of guys, man, we're growing up together."
This, then, was one of those hard-knock lessons taught to them by the Grizzlies — a second-round playoff team and the No. 5 seed out West — that the Jazz might refer to in the future.
The Jazz needed this win from a survival point of view more than the Grizzlies, yet Memphis outshot, outplayed, outeverythinged Utah in the decisive fourth quarter.
It all started with Mayo, the latest guard to torch the Jazz.
With his team down by six, Mayo scored 10 consecutive points while helping give the Grizzlies the lead and momentum again. He finished with 20 points, second behind Rudy Gay's more evenly spread-out 26 points.
"He made some big shots," Corbin said. "That's what he'll do."
The Jazz were still right there and trimmed Memphis' lead to one twice in the final minutes. But Gay and Mayo each hit timely 3-pointers to give the Grizzlies a bit of separation on each occasion.
Utah also had a costly turnover when Gay picked off an errant pass from Devin Harris to Paul Millsap — the players called it a miscommunication — when the Jazz could have tied or gone ahead.
And Hayward had his shot blocked a bit later by Memphis center Marc Gasol, which could have trimmed the Grizz's lead to two with 30 seconds remaining.
Overall in the fourth quarter, the Jazz only hit 7 of 21 shots and scored just 22 points. Meanwhile, their postseason-bound counterparts were 8-for-15, including going 4-for-6 beyond the arc and 13-for-16 at the free-throw line in a 33-point quarter.
One team proved why it's postseason worthy.
The other team showed it plays hard but might be a year away from making a playoff appearance.
"We didn't get stops defensively," Hayward said. "They made some big, big plays and big shots down the stretch and that's got to be on us to get those stops and rebounds."
This one was actually more understandable than Friday night when the Jazz helplessly watched the 17-win Hornets score 13 straight points in the fourth quarter in that damaging defeat.
"We had the game controlled up until the fourth quarter," Millsap said. "People complained about the first quarter throughout the weeks, and it's been the fourth quarter that's been killing us lately."
Having said that, Millsap credited Memphis for getting it done. That helped the Grizzlies improve to 35-24 and stay within reach of the Los Angeles teams for home-court advantage in the first round.
"They were more aggressive in the fourth quarter. They knocked down shots when they needed to," Millsap said. "We didn't particularly know the time and situations, and coming down the stretch we was a little boggled, so it cost us for it."
Al Jefferson and Harris led the Jazz with 20 points apiece, while Millsap and Hayward each contributed 17. Derrick Favors had his third-straight double-double — a career-first — with 14 rebounds and 10 points off the bench.
"You know what, the guys played hard," Corbin added. "We've got to learn from it and just continue to work."
And keep working until that one day when the Jazz are that one team in important games like this.
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