I try to help my team and give 100 percent and in the end I’m really happy that we won the game. I’m really happy about the minutes today to take a step forward. —Tibor Pleiss
SALT LAKE CITY — The game’s hero, Rodney Hood, was still in the shower, so the assembled media in the Jazz locker room crowded around Tibor Pleiss, the first time that’s happened since he joined the team last fall.
Pleiss had hardly played a lick before Saturday night’s win over Memphis, but after playing more minutes (18), scoring more points (6) and grabbing more rebounds (6) in one game than he had the entire season, he was suddenly a popular man.
The 7-foot-3 rookie from Germany had played in only five games in a Jazz uniform prior to Monday for a grand total of 15 minutes and had scored just four points total.
But with Derrick Favors out for the fifth straight game, coach Quin Snyder decided to give Pleiss some early minutes and the big German made an immediate contribution and got more opportunities as the game went on.
“I try to help my team and give 100 percent and in the end I’m really happy that we won the game,’’ Pleiss said. “I’m really happy about the minutes today to take a step forward.”
Pleiss had seen only mop-up action earlier in the season and spent a couple of weeks playing in Boise for Utah’s D-League team, the Idaho Stampede. Even though he was there just a short time, he said the experience was valuable.
“It helped me a lot to understand the system, the defense,” he said. “It helped a lot and I was really thankful for that opportunity.”
Coach Quin Snyder was happy with the play Saturday of all of his big men, who picked up the slack with Favors out with back spasms again and Rudy Gobert still out with his knee injury. But he was especially thrilled with Pleiss’s effort, because of the small amount of time he had played before Saturday.
“What he did tonight is pretty impressive,” Snyder said. “It’s hard to not know if you’re going to play and to be in and out and he looked like he competed.”
Pleiss had played just three minutes at the end of Thursday night’s win over Portland and had a turnover, a foul and a missed shot. But Snyder inserted him into the game with 3:51 left in the first quarter for Trey Lyles.
“He didn’t come in there walking on eggshells or anything,’’ said Snyder. “Sometimes that’s hard. He looked really comfortable and I’m happy to see him get an opportunity like that.”
Before the quarter was over, Pleiss had collected three rebounds and he also sank a 15-footer from the baseline. Early in the second quarter, he made another basket.
“I loved it that he turned and shot the ball and then he shot another one,’’ said Snyder. “It made me smile because there was a courage about how he played that was great.”
Pleiss did pick up five fouls, including three on offensive screens, which is something he wasn’t happy about.
“I played too strong, that’s something I still have to learn how when I go to a screen to hold distance,” he said.
Besides Pleiss, the Jazz also got 12 points and 10 rebounds from Jeff Withey and four points and 11 rebounds from Booker.
“At some point saying we’re shorthanded does a disservice to the guys who play and I’ve probably been the one that says that,” Snyder said. “We played with grit and we played with passion. Whether it’s Book or Jeff Withey or Tibor or Rodney or Gordon (Hayward) — you can go down the list, I don’t think there’s one guy that didn’t give every part of himself to the game. It’s hard to do that all the time, but we sure did it tonight. I’m glad the result ended up reflecting that.”
JAZZ NOTES: Saturday’s victory improved Utah’s record to 15-17 and put them a half game ahead of Houston, Monday night’s opponent, in the Western Conference standings after the Rockets fell to 16-19 with a loss to San Antonio . . . The Rockets are led by James Harden, who is second in the league in scoring at 28.1 ppg. Other starters for the Rockets include Dwight Howard (13.5 ppg), Clint Capela (7.9 ppg), Patrick Beverly (8.8 ppg) and Trevor Ariza (11.3 ppg). Ty Lawson (6.5 ppg) is coming off the bench after starting earlier in the season . . . The Jazz and Rockets play again Thursday night in Houston after the Jazz play at San Antonio Wednesday night . . . The Jazz and Rockets also meet Feb. 23 in Salt Lake and March 23 in Houston.