MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Utah Jazz were beaten 96-86 by the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night at FedEx Forum.
That result meant Utah returned home from its 0-3 road trip having swirled down the NBA standings into sole possession of fourth place in the NBA’s lottery race with a sixth-straight loss and a 22-47 record.
But after losing in San Antonio and Houston by a combined 56 points, the Jazz showed that not all double-digit losses are equal.
Call it a silver-lining setback, but Utah’s latest defeat wasn’t nearly as demoralizing as the 38-point debacle in Houston or the 18-point shortcoming in San Antonio they suffered in recent days.
Unlike Monday when the only fight came at the end of the game, the Jazz actually played with some fire against a gutsy Grizzlies squad.
Sure, the Jazz fell behind by more than two touchdowns to Memphis. But they rallied twice in the second half and eventually tied the game in the fourth quarter.
“I love the way we fought in that second half,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “We gave ourselves a chance. This team has a lot of character. We don’t like being embarrassed.”
This game did look like it was going to be another humiliating one for the Jazz, who trailed 12-2 five minutes in, 30-19 after one quarter, and by 18 late in the second quarter.
Once again, the Jazz lacked energy and aggression, poise and preciseness, not to mention points on their side of the scoreboard.
That all changed after they came out of the locker room down 48-32.
“It felt like we played good in the second half,” Jazz point guard Trey Burke said. “But we’ve got to have that same intensity in the first.”
Burke was the only one who started well for Utah as he scored 13 of his 16 points in the first quarter.
In the second half, both shooting guards Gordon Hayward (14) and Alec Burks (10) scored the bulk of their 16 points. Center Enes Kanter, who replaced Marvin Williams in the starting lineup to counter the Memphis bigs, battled for all 12 of his points after the break as well.
“I think the second half we played pretty good, especially in the third quarter,” said Kanter, who finished with 12 rebounds and was instrumental in an early third quarter 16-4 run that cut Memphis’ lead to 52-48. “We got a really good run and we came back.”
“I would just say pride,” Burke said. “Coming out in that second half, the coaches did a great job motivating us out there. We understood what we needed to do in the second half, get out in transition.”
To wit, Utah scored 11 of its 13 fast-break points in the third and fourth quarters.
The Jazz pulled within three in the third quarter before Memphis stretched its lead back to 11 heading into the final period.
Despite center Derrick Favors being in foul trouble, the group of Diante Garrett, Burks, Hayward, Williams and Kanter helped Utah surge into the game again after turning an 80-68 deficit into an 84-all game.
Burks capped an 8-0 run with a layup after Hayward dove on the hardwood to poke the ball away from Grizzlies guard Mike Conley to his teammate to begin the fast break.
“We thought they were aggressive in the first half, so we wanted to make sure we came out and, no matter what happens, lay everything on the line and see what happens,” Corbin said. “I can’t say enough about how much respect I have for these guys for doing just that.”
Things unraveled quickly for the Jazz after they managed to equalize the score heading into the final five minutes.
Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph looked like a big lineman intercepting a pass at the line of scrimmage when he picked off an errant Garrett toss, leading to a Tayshaun Prince layup to regain Memphis the lead for good at 86-84 with 4:51 remaining.
Memphis followed that with an inside Z-Bo score and a Conley floater to go back up by six less than a minute later.
From there, the Jazz, who’ve played nine times on the road and 13 games overall in the past three weeks, looked more cooked than the fall-off-the-bone BBQ ribs on Beale Street.
“That’s the time when (our) guys stepped up and contested shots. We got locked in,” said Memphis coach Dave Joerger, who complimented Utah for being “a team that always plays hard, right from the first tip to the end” in his pregame comments.
Randolph finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds and center Marc Gasol contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds for a 40-27 Memphis team that is trying to stave off Phoenix (39-29) for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“They showed what experience means in this league,” Corbin said.
Although his team, which has now lost 11 of 12, could desperately use a win, the youthful Jazz had to settle for a moral victory that came with a rally.
“It’s a good thing that we came back,” Kanter said. “It’s a bad thing that we couldn’t keep up. Next time we need to do a better job.”