SALT LAKE CITY — Tanking for lottery position? Not exactly.
After starting the season 1-14, it appeared Utah was headed for record-setting futility. However, with the emergence of rookie point guard Trey Burke, the Jazz have climbed to respectability. Their ascension continued Monday as they closed the 2013 calendar with an 83-80 win over Charlotte at EnergySolutions Arena.
“It’s a hard-fought ballgame and we ended up winning it,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. “To be able to make big plays down the stretch, I thought we made some big shots and made some stops down the stretch also.”
It was the 10th straight win over the Bobcats for Utah, which improved to 9-7 with Burke, Gordon Hayward, Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams and Derrick Favors together in the starting lineup.
“It gives us a lot of confidence winning close games, especially at home,” explained Burke, who scored a game-high 21 points with five assists. “We feel we’re coming together as a team and we’re learning to play with each other more and more. As long as we continue to strap down on defense I think we’ll be good.”
In Al Jefferson’s return to Utah, Charlotte (14-18) quickly established an 8-2 lead, but the Jazz (10-24) responded with a 7-2 burst highlighted by Alec Burks' 3-pointer after Hayward picked up his second personal just four minutes into the game. Then, again after Hayward promptly earned his third foul, Burks supplemented the offense.
“Especially in the first half I thought he carried us,” Corbin said of Burks, who finished with 14 points and six rebounds. “We really needed a guy to attack the basket for us and make some shots. He really took up the slack and he’s been playing extremely well for us as of late.”
Burks, Williams and Richard Jefferson combined for 17 points in the first quarter, which ended in a 21-21 tie, while Hayward rested and Favors struggled
In the opening minutes, Favors exposed the handle twice, allowing Al Jefferson to create a turnover. In 10-plus minutes, Favors scored two points on two attempts with two rebounds and three turnovers. In the second half, however, he began to search for his shot.
“Guys making the right passes; the pocket pass was there a few times,” Corbin said of Favors. He finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three blocks. “Just reading the situation and not pressing. One of the things with all of us is when you’re not scoring you can be effective as a decoy.”
Favors’ presence in the interior complicated Al Jefferson’s rhythm. Jefferson, the double-double machine, still scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but did so on 8-of-23 shooting.
“We made him work for everything he got,” Corbin said of Jefferson. “He took a lot more shots tonight and didn’t make a high percentage of them.”
The Bobcats failed to capitalize on nine Utah turnovers, scoring only three points, which allowed the Jazz to cushion their lead to double figures, 42-32, courtesy of two Burke free throws with 42 seconds remaining in the half.
Shortly thereafter, Utah claimed its largest lead of the evening, 48-35, following consecutive 3-point buckets from Burke and Williams with 10:16 in the third.
Charlotte responded behind Kemba Walker’s straightaway 3-pointer and mid-range jumper in the midst of a 9-0 run to open the fourth quarter, trimming Utah’s lead to 63-60. The Bobcats evened the score up at 65-65 on Josh McRoberts’ follow tip, but Burke rimmed a 25-foot bomb seconds later.
“He never has been (afraid),” Corbin said of Burke’s confidence to pull the trigger in tight situations. “He made a couple — the one at the end of the shot clock to get us up three was huge for us. He milked the clock very well and was able to attack and make a big shot for us”
Leading 78-77, Burke hesitated deep into the shot clock, beat Walker off the dribble and iced the win with a scoop off the glass.
“That’s why I went to the basket,” Burke said. “There was about two seconds left and I figured he thought I was going to shoot the shot, but I felt I could get a better shot and I went after it.”
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