PHOENIX — The Utah Jazz's victory over the San Antonio Spurs was a prime example of how this team continues to evolve, grow and improve as the season unfolds.
The Jazz are no longer wilting. They're willing their way to wins.
That was evident when an eight-point deficit against the usually clutch Spurs in the final four minutes turned into a victory thanks to aggressive defense and big offensive plays down the stretch by Gordon Hayward, Al Jefferson and, of course, the hero du soir, Mo Williams.
A month ago, the Jazz likely would have lost Wednesday night's game — like they did on Nov. 3 when a fourth-quarter tie turned into a 10-point loss — instead of creating a delirium-like celebration in EnergySolutions Arena.
"It's a good sign," Williams said 12 hours after his game-winning 3-pointer gave the Jazz an exciting 99-96 win over the 18-5 Spurs.
"I think we are growing. How good we are or can be, who knows? We still don't know," he continued. "We don't know where our ceiling is right now, so we're just going to continue to get better. We feel like we still have room to grow. We feel like we're playing good basketball right now, so we know how we need to play to win."
Now the key is to become like the team they just beat.
The Jazz had one of their best games of the young year and eked out a terrific win to improve to 13-10 and increase their season-high four-game winning streak.
The Spurs, meanwhile, showed some rare moments of human frailty down the stretch, with turnovers and missed shots by clutch robots like Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. But even with those struggles and a poor-shooting first half, the visitors from the Alamo City were poised to pick up their 12th road win.
You know you're an elite team when a subpar showing still almost nets you a victory in a hostile environment like The Solution.
Becoming more consistent like San Antonio was one thing Williams took away from Wednesday's win — well, along with the satisfaction of seeing his 26-foot net-snapper replayed, written about and discussed over and over.
"If," Williams said, "we get to their level, where we play the same way every night, win, lose or draw, I think we'll be in a lot more games than not."
Interestingly, that's the same attitude he had about that last-second shot he took over the outstretched arm of 6-foot-6 Danny Green after getting the ball with 6.7 seconds left. He could've handled missing a good shot, but he at least wanted to be in the position to put up a good shot that had a chance to go in. That hasn't always happened this season.
"I was in a situation a few other times, a few other games (and) I thought I rushed," Williams said. "I just wanted to be patient. I wanted to take my time. I wanted to get to my spot. I wanted to get into a rhythm no matter where it was on the floor. It didn't matter whether it was a two or a three — at that point you just need to get a good shot up."
Shoot. Swish. Celebration.
Now it's on the Jazz to take this trend back on the road and continue to work their way up the Western Conference standings. That won't happen unless they get more road efforts like they had in Sunday's strong win at Staples Center against the Lakers. Despite their current high, the Jazz still only have four road wins to their credit in 13 tries.
Judging the conviction in their comments, it seems like that could be the case. The Jazz have plenty of opportunities coming up, too. Friday night's game at Phoenix is the first of five road games in their next six contests, including next week's tough pre-Christmas trip to Brooklyn, Indiana, Miami and Orlando.
The Jazz realize this could be a significant moment in the 2012-13 campaign.
"It is a good spot for us to be in at this portion of the season," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "It can carry forward and be a run that you get that you look back on at the end of the year and say, 'Well, this is where things started to turn for us.' "
The coach does like how things are shaping up — from the play of his starters to the bench production and from his players actions on the court to behind the scenes.
"I think we're right on schedule here. You can't make chemistry. It has to create itself and it's a process of doing that," Corbin said. "We're getting better. The chemistry's getting better. The feel in the locker room is getting better."
Corbin is encouraged that the feeling-out process — inevitable with new additions and ever-changing roles — is churning out positive results in December.
"It's amazing how good … this group is with each other," he said. "The more success we have, the more battles we go through and compete in together, they grow closer together, so it's great to see it happen."4 comments on this story
It's especially great when it all comes together on a national stage against the Spurs like it did on ESPN late Wednesday night.
But where did it rank in Corbin's wins list?
"I'm so inundated in the next one," Corbin said, unable to come up with examples of comparable victories. "I'm thinking of Phoenix."
With San Antonio in the rearview mirror, this matchup with the Suns is the most important game of the season.
One game at a time is, no doubt, a Spursesque mantra the Jazz wouldn't mind adopting.
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