I was really pleased that when some of those things happened … that we didn’t go inward. We were mentally tough. That’s something — not that I haven’t seen it, but I saw it a lot tonight. I liked it. —Quin Snyder
SALT LAKE CITY — There were times in Saturday’s game against Detroit when the Utah Jazz could’ve fallen apart.
The Pistons hardly looked like a team that was playing on the second night of a back-to-back. Or like one that was mostly without one of its top players (Andre Drummond). Or like a squad that was on the verge of losing its 10th straight game.
Sometimes, though, getting unexpected challenges and then conquering them are accompanied by pleasant rewards.
Continuing the team’s hot streak, which is now five straight victories and 10 of 12 wins overall, for example.
Receiving postgame kudos from your coach is another.
The Jazz got both following their “gritty” (Quin Snyder’s word) 88-85 win over Detroit.
Snyder liked how the Jazz defended deep into the shot clock, even on the occasions when the Pistons hit late buckets or got second chances on mistimed rebounds.
He liked how his team matched Detroit’s aggressiveness and fought hard to hold on to the 29th win of the season.
He liked how players didn’t get their spirits down after Detroit had success, and he specifically mentioned how his team responded after the Pistons hit a long 3 at the end of the shot clock.
“I was really pleased that when some of those things happened that we didn’t go inward. We were mentally tough,” Snyder said. “That’s something — not that I haven’t seen it, but I saw it a lot tonight. I liked it.”
The Jazz will face another interesting challenge Monday night when they continue their five-game homestand against Charlotte. The Hornets (29-35) are currently in the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but they might be without a familiar face. Center Al Jefferson, who played in Utah from 2010-13, is listed as questionable because of a sprained right knee.
The way Utah is playing, though, it’s a game the Jazz probably should win regardless of whether Big Al is on the court.
If they show the grit they did Saturday — or the explosiveness they did in the 109-91 blowout of Houston on Thursday — they’ll likely have their longest winning streak since picking up six straight victories when Jefferson was the team’s leading scorer. Utah hasn’t won more than five in a row since that playoff push in March 2012.
But the Jazz are learning from earlier losses and setbacks, which came in handy Saturday night when they resisted buckling.
“We just learned from our mistakes early in the year,” Jazz power forward Derrick Favors said. “Just how to hang in the game when things aren’t going right, lock down defensively, execute on the offensive end and get the win.”
Toughing it out in games like that can build character, especially in light of losing a game against a subpar opponent (the Lakers, 100-97) at home a few weeks prior.
“They (Pistons) lost a few games in a row and they came in here desperately trying to win a game,” Jazz rookie Rodney Hood said. “We had to fight until the last buzzer and hit some really tough shots, but we stuck with it and got the win.”
Snyder credited multiple players for their parts, but he was extra pleased with how backup point guard Trey Burke came in during crunch time and hit a key floater off the backboard with 13 seconds remaining for the final three-point lead.
While lauding his team’s mental toughness, Snyder said Burke “epitomizes” that quality.
“For Trey to be as supportive as he is on the bench, but mentally to be able to come in and make that shot, there’s not a lot of guys who can do that,” Snyder said. “It was a big bucket. He’s cold. We put him in to help handle (the basketball) and, boom, he makes that shot, which was a big shot.”
The Jazz didn't practice Sunday, but Snyder said even though his players didn't hit the court, he’s continuing to use opportunities to teach his receptive players through film sessions.
“I think I’m still pushing the heck out of them, but we’re doing it more with film and not contact stuff,” Snyder said. “They’re dialed in. I keep knocking on wood. (I fear that) somehow someone’s going to lose their will to get better. We’re not.
“It’s good because we’ve got a long way to go,” the first-year coach added. “We just have a lot more to do. What we’re doing right now I think is positive.”