SALT LAKE CITY — A new playoff look. A new playoff court.
More important for the Jazz, a new playoff posture.
Sometimes a makeover is all you need to discover a brand new you.
Saturday at Vivint Arena, the Jazz took a 2-1 series lead over Oklahoma City by outsmarting, out-hustling, out-rebounding and out-styling the Thunder. They were far more patient and far less selfish in their 115-102 win.
It didn’t come as easily as it looked.
This was eight years in the making.
If the game showed anything, it was that the Jazz are again taking their home court seriously. It marked the first time they’ve led after three games since 2010. They owned the building from the top-floor suites to the basement drains. They did it with passing and spacing and jarring defense.
Also, they did it using a look they debuted during the regular season — their “City” uniforms — but had never used in the playoffs.
They changed their look and changed their luck.
Home, for now, is now home again, even for a team with a league-high seven players from foreign lands. The Jazz had scoring coming from Spain (Ricky Rubio, 26 points), Australia (Joe Ingles, 21), France (Rudy Gobert 18), and Main Street U.S.A (Donovan Mitchell, 22).
Quin Snyder is taking calls from all international calling codes.
Right here in the 801, Sndyer’s team is dialing it up.
If this seemed easy, consider this: The Jazz haven’t been a playoff power at home in some time. Bringing the playoffs back to Salt Lake wasn’t necessarily positive news. Last year in the postseason they were weak at Vivint Arena, losing twice at home in the first round, but wining three times on the road against the Clippers. Still, the home funk was disconcerting. The Jazz came into Saturday’s game 1-6 in their last seven home playoff games, dating back to 2012 when they got swept by the Spurs.
Vivint has often been described as one of the toughest places in the NBA to play.
It certainly has been for the Jazz.
Should Snyder have brought up past homecourt woes?
“I think it’s more of a different team,” Snyder said Friday. “I think it’s more you want to bring it up in the sense that we want to play well when we’re home. But I don’t know that there’s a focus that says, ‘Hey, we didn’t win at home last year, we gotta win this year.’”
The Jazz organization certainly did what it could to put last year’s problems in the past. And they clearly loved wearing the City uniforms — the ones with shades of marigold, carrot, yam, maroon, wine, burgundy, merlot, sunset, butternut, salmon, scarlet, pumpkin spice and Trump hair.
Not to be outdone, the playing court wore its new duds, too, with Delicate Arch as the focus.
The Thunder must have wondered if they had wandered off on some Moab trails: Upper Helldorado, Hell’s Revenge or Poison Spider Mesa.
Vivint Arena wasn’t a welcoming place.
As might be expected, the sound system was set on stun. For all the noise about OKC being the league’s loudest arena, Jazz fans weren’t, well, hearing it.
Just like Mitchell’s career, expectations for the Jazz have gone from zero to 90 almost overnight. This year it was an unexpected delight for Utahns to see the Jazz return, sans-Gordon Hayward. But after winning Saturday, the tone wasn’t “Happy to be here.” It was “Bring it on!”
First-night jitters might have been expected, considering circumstances. But Snyder didn’t expect it.
“I think we just have to maintain our focus,” he said. “Sometimes the enthusiasm of the crowd of a given game — although that will give you energy — that energy has to be targeted in the right things.”
Focus wasn’t an issue. Though the Jazz were plagued by 19 turnovers, they made nine of their first 12 shots.
“I don’t know if you necessarily lose concentration, but you can lose the feel for concentration for the game plan,” Snyder said. “We had some guys clearly in the first game that had — I didn’t really notice it — but pregame jitters. Once you get out there, that went away. That’s OK. That’s normal.”
There’s nothing normal about the Jazz being where they are, nine months after losing their top scorer.
The difference was brains and effort — a tough combination to beat in any circumstance. The Thunder wasted chances by hurrying shots. The Jazz sealed off on the glass and locked in on defense, out-rebounding them by 19.
“We were grateful to the fans that they were that engaged,” Snyder said.
Everyone seemed to like the look.