SALT LAKE CITY — How I ended up writing about the Jazz’s shockingly easy 109-94 win over Oklahoma City on Tuesday came down to a typing class, really.
I had been in band throughout junior high, and considered becoming the next Doc Severinsen. To update my resume, I might have been the next Wynton Marsalis.
Still, I had one elective available for my sophomore year in high school and it came down to typing or concert band.
The lure of the keyboard came calling.
So there you have it. I’ll skip the lines about the Jazz hitting the high notes in order to make my point: Early events can have far-reaching implications, maybe even irreversible ones.
I haven’t picked up a trumpet since 1968.
Meanwhile, there’s no way to underrate Tuesday’s win over the Thunder, arguably the league’s most talented team. It was a game that mattered, and will matter more on April 17 when the season ends. It’s not unlikely the win could be the difference between playoff seedings, or even making the playoffs. Beyond that, it told the Jazz that for the moment they’re in a fairly good place.
“That was a big game. Turned out the biggest game of the year for us, especially coming off two losses,” guard Earl Watson said. “We did a great job of being aggressive on both ends of the court. They’re a great team, but we didn’t give them too much respect. We respect them as opponents but we went out to win the game.”
It’s not every night a team can gauge where it stands against one of the best teams in the NBA.
In this case, the Jazz could.
Measuring progress against the best certainly isn’t a new concept. The Jazz do that every time they play San Antonio or Miami. But with the All-Star break just hours away — and only a road game at Minnesota in between — this was an important place to take stock.
Oklahoma City is a team the Jazz could even meet in the playoffs.
The Thunder came in having won four previous games by an average of 25 points. Turbulent weather seemed imminent for the Jazz.
After losing back-to-back games to Chicago and Sacramento, this was potentially a time for the Jazz to retreat into fetal position. Forward Paul Millsap said beforehand that they were “desperate” to win.
How were the Thunder supposed to know the Jazz would throw everything in the tool shed at them?
The Jazz got 49 points from the bench, 41 of them from Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and DeMarre Carroll.
“ Those guys — if not the best team in the league — are one of the better teams,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin said before the game. “It would be a huge win going into the break. It will be tough in Minnesota (Wednesday), but to get this win on our home floor would be great.”
That’s the thing about this incarnation of the Jazz. When they go into the All-Star break losing, they tend to come out losing, too. Last year they lost their last three games before the layoff, then fell to Sacramento as they came out. In 2011 they lost their last four before the break, then dropped their first game back against Dallas.
If the Jazz seemed ready to lie down and wretch beforehand, they erased those doubts early. Everyone seemed on the same page on everything — including the hometown crowd. When the national anthem was sung, the sound system cut out midway through the song. The performer kept singing anyway. The crowd picked up where the sound system left off, belting out the remaining words with fervor — and sans the voice enhancement.
That’s how it went all night.
Everyone got into the act.
The Jazz got 49 points from the bench. They picked off an impressive 16 offensive rebounds and forced 20 turnovers. Although they didn’t shoot as accurately (48 percent to 56 percent), they fired off 19 more shots. They steadily kept up the pressure, building their lead to 13 in the third quarter and 21 with 5:23 left in the game.
So it went against one of the best the West has to offer. It was just one win; the Jazz know that. Twenty-nine games remain.
Somehow the whole thing reminded me of high school and early decisions and long-term choices. It’s been forever since I played with the concert band. But on Tuesday the darndest thing happened. Standing outside the locker room, waiting for the doors to open, I thought I heard music just the same.
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