SALT LAKE CITY — There wasn’t a scowl in the room. Nobody threw a water bottle or cursed. The Utah Jazz were as happy as children at play after their 112-101 win over Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams walked out side-by-side, slapping hands and smiling. Enes Kanter pulled streamers off his shoulders and draped them on Jeremy Evans.
If this is tanking, the Jazz are doing some great faking.
That applies to the fans at EnergySolutions Arena too. When the public address man said, “Everybody on their feet!” they were. Even before the message board said, “Get loud!” they did.
More importantly, they were booing the refs like there was no tomorrow.
Turns out there could be.
Oklahoma City came in with the best record in the league and left with a stomach ache. Note to Jazz front office: If you actually did send a message to lose, nobody’s getting it.
“So much fun,” Kanter said in the locker room. “So much fun, despite the technical (he got). So much fun.”
Who knew education could be enjoyable?
Never mind Oklahoma City was missing its second- and third-best players, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. The biggest star, Kevin Durant, was fully accounted for, thanks to 48 points.
It wasn’t enough to offset the Jazz, who built their lead to 24 in the third quarter before seeing it cut to five. Gordon Hayward made two clutch 3s and stole for a dunk, making the final minute academic.
As surprising the outcome, it made sense in some ways. As one former NBA coach said a few weeks ago, management might sometimes want to tank, but players? Not likely. Who wants to play poorly so someone can take their job?
Certainly not the Jazz subs.
It was mildly surprising when the Jazz built a 10-point lead in the first half. But it was positively baffling which players did it. Coach Tyrone Corbin cleaned out the pantry: Diante Garrett, Jeremy Evans, Alec Burks, Kanter and Brandon Rush.
It worked so well that Corbin stuck with those players from the start of the second quarter until 3:50 remained in the half. After that the starters extended the lead to 12 by the break.
During one timeout stunt, the Jazz mascot carried a toddler to one of the officials and left him. The ref put the child down, but guard John Lucas III came to the rescue, handing him off to his mom.
That was all the court time Lucas got, yet even he seemed happy afterward. Miss Utah Preteen played the national anthem on the violin to get things started, while Mr. Utah Preteen, Trey Burke, ran off a nice 7-point, 2-steal, 3-rebound first half.
Then the stars came out to start the second half and made the most of it, going ahead by 24 with 5:38 left in the third.
This didn’t look like a team taking an early dive. It is 6-4 since Dec. 18.
But that run included last Friday’s loss to an unrecognizable Laker team that looked like a collection of office temps. Robert Sacre, Jody Meeks, Nick Young, Kendall Marshall
Who are these guys, a law firm?
Yet the Jazz managed to get thumped 110-99 after trailing by as many as 21 to the Lakers.
All this has complicated the Jazz’s picture. They have rookie Burke to bring along and build his confidence. But they also have Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins available to draft next summer — if the Jazz can fail spectacularly enough.
Those seem tempting options, especially considering Durant was a No. 2 pick in 2007. At the same time, the No. 1 pick was the ever-injured Greg Oden.
Regardless, on Tuesday it was all-Jazz, all night. In the final minute Corbin was at midcourt, still waving his arms and sweating. He didn’t seem on cruise control either.
In any season, with almost anyone’s team, beating the best is just as Kanter put it — so much fun.
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