SALT LAKE CITY — Mo Williams took advantage of a switch the Golden State Warriors made Sunday night before hitting a game-winning shot.
That's not the only switch that's helped the Utah Jazz win seven of eight games in the past couple of weeks heading into tonight's showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Since his surgically repaired thumb has improved and he's gotten back into playing shape, Williams has been playing some of his best basketball of the season.
The switch has been flipped on.
Such was the case again Sunday when Williams' 25 points lifted the Jazz to their biggest road win of the season, a 97-90 thriller over the Warriors that catapulted them back above the Lakers into the Western Conference's final playoff spot.
"If he's going good on the offensive end and getting the pace for us," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said, "then other guys feed off of that."
The Jazz win a lot when that happens, too.
In the past 10 games, Williams has hit the 20-point mark five times. The only time the Jazz lost in those games was at San Antonio, but that overtime defeat was when a switch seemed to be flicked on for both Utah and its point guard.
"He's been getting his rhythm back," Corbin said.
Case in point: Williams only had five 20-point games in the previous 32 before this recent breakout.
That's why the Jazz, who are 7-3 when Williams drops in 20 or more, were perfectly fine when the Warriors made their defensive switch in the closing moments, trying to take away Utah's inside options while giving Williams an advantage on the perimeter with rookie Draymond Green on him instead of Klay Thompson.
"I wanted to switch because (Green) hadn't seen me all night," Williams said. "Get Klay off me and get him on me, so I had all my moves I wanted to get to because that (was) the first time he'd seen me all night."
With the basketball in his hands and time running out on the shot clock and game, Williams knew what he had to do.
DeMarre Carroll had no doubt what was about to happen. Al Jefferson had it figured out. Corbin planned it that way.
"We wanted," the coach said, "to have the ball in his hands."
Shortly after it left Williams' hands from 27 feet away from the basket, it dropped through the net to give Utah an insurmountable six-point lead with 13.4 seconds remaining at Oracle Arena.
Next time, Green probably won't back off so much while Williams directs traffic with one hand and then guides in a dagger with the other.
Not long after, Williams and the Jazz were celebrating a season first — their second road win in a row. To refresh your memory, Williams had 28 points, including 14 in the final six minutes, of that other road victory in Portland a week ago Friday.
"I always tell him, 'I know your shot, your end-of-the-game shot. I've been studying you so long.' I knew he was going to shoot that," Carroll said. "It was a big shot. Mo's been hitting big shots for us all year."
Well, not all year.
There was that painful missed layup in Cleveland and a handful of off nights. Those clunkers have been happening less often lately.
And at times, Williams sure has hit some heroic humdingers.
Not only that, but the 30-year-old's leadership has been one of the things that has held the Jazz together during difficult times this season.
"That's his shot. That was big shot. That’s what he do," Jefferson said. "If you remember back in San Antonio, it was the same walk-down shot that he did to win the game. I felt real comfortable with it."
Big Al was referring to the Dec. 12 game at EnergySolutions Arena when Williams hit a buzzer-Spurs-beating 3-pointer after missing one about nine seconds earlier to clinch Utah's 99-96 win over San Antonio.
Fast forward five months — and skip through that nasty thumb injury, the surgery and rehab part — and Williams is shooting as confidently as he has all year.
It's not just his outside shots that are falling.
Now that his thumb's feeling better (although still in a splint during games) and his legs are back under him after his 2 1/2 month layoff, Williams is running the pick-and-roll at a high level.
The former All-Star playmaker is finding his groove and helping teammates find theirs with more frequency than has happened all season.
Williams is giving the Jazz a pace that's favorable to their style — quick in transition when possible and getting players involved in a smooth-flowing offense when it's time for half-court sets.
It certainly helps that his coach has complete confidence in him at the end of games.
"He was able to attack and control the game for us at the end there to make a big shot," Corbin said. "That 3 that he hit at the end was huge. I can't say enough about it."
Williams knows it's crunch time, and he's all about stepping up with the Jazz's postseason on the line.
"I personally made an effort to be aggressive on the road," he said, "to take pressure off of guys on the team."
There's no escaping pressure at this juncture, though.
Utah had the pressure of seizing the opportunity given to them when the Lakers were beaten by the Clippers, allowing the Jazz to regain a half-game lead for the No. 8 spot out West.
The pressure — and excitement — will be thick again tonight when Williams gets matched up against All-Star Russell Westbrook when the Thunder visit Utah.
"We knew the Lakers lost. That was added motivation for us. We knew this was going to be a huge game," Williams said Sunday after the win over the Warriors.
"It was great for us to get the win. Now we've got a tough team coming into our place on Tuesday. We're taking them one game at a time. We've got to look forward to that. It's all about wins right now."
Williams wants to keep this switch flipped on as long as possible.
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