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Monson: Utah Jazz go big on Thunder

Published February 13, 2013 1:33 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A slightly confused Jazz team got exactly what it wanted in the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night at EnergySolutions Arena: an opportunity, a win and maybe even some clarity about what it can be.

Question is, was any of it the truth?

After playing well over stretches against Chicago here, except for the one stretch that mattered most — the last one — and then going on the road to embarrass themselves against an outfit in Sacramento that has dropped twice as many games as it has won, the Jazz were looking for, among other things, a unifying cause, a challenge that could bring them together in effort and purpose, a great opponent they could beat on a home floor where supportive noise and good comfort had aided them against quality teams in the past.

Kevin Durant wasn't impressed by that last part, saying of ESA: "It's not even as loud as an empty Oklahoma City arena."

He was impressed, however, by Utah's focus and fight. "They kicked our ass," he said.

Nearing the All-Star break, the Jazz wanted and needed a meaningful win.

"We're desperate," Paul Millsap said beforehand.

Desperate enough to take victory, 109-94.

Afterward, Tyrone Corbin didn't want to make too much of the happy result, but just enough for it to be useful: "It's one win ... it gives us a sense of how we can play against everybody."

He underscored two words: urgency and aggression.

"That's what we want to be," he said.

Taking out the division-leading Thunder, who the Jazz trail by 10.5 games now, helped them more psychologically than numerically. It helped them rearrange in their own minds the height of their ceiling, at least on a good night at ESA. It didn't throttle them toward the Thunder in the standings, because ... well, everybody knows that's a helpless cause. But it nudged their confidence and made them feel just a little better about who they are, figuratively.

Literally, nobody yet knows. Barreling straight toward the trade deadline, as rumors fly, it remains unknown whether Utah's roster will be altered. Either way, the Jazz basically are who we thought they were: an imperfect, limited team, a worthy team that typically plays hard, that tries real hard, but that lacks the talent necessary to be any sort of authentic contender.

But on this night, they slapped around a good bet.

Neither a win over or a loss at the hands of Durant and Russell Westbrook was going to move the needle left or right on that. It was a single game, a win unto itself. Everyone already knows OKC is better than the Jazz. For the Jazz, beating the Thunder is like a sweet dream from which they eventually will awake, snapping back into their more modest reality.

Still, that reality will now briefly be just a tad less modest. That's not exactly a motivational rocket to ride, but ... it's something well north of a third straight defeat.

Here's what happened: The Jazz went offensive, playing one of their best games of the season. Everyone was in the pool, including Derrick Favors and DeMarre Carroll, who came off the bench to give punch and hustle. When Carroll is putting up 10 early points, smoothing bombs from the corner, you know things are clearing nicely for the Jazz. On defense, they took 14 steals from the sloppy Thunder, who ended up with 20 turnovers. The Jazz did what winning teams do — rebound hard and hit clutch shots. They created problems for OKC, taking the ball inside, draining those perimeter heaves, too. They even absorbed some fire when Durant bumped Alec Burks with a late flagrant, and then Carroll crowded the second-best player on the planet.

As for Durant, he finished with 33 points, but it didn't matter.

The Jazz were never really threatened by OKC down the stretch. Point in any direction on the Jazz bench, and most everybody played a big role in the big roll. Six players finished in double figures. The Jazz also played tough D and outboarded the Thunder by 13.

"We played hard, with amazing intensity," Earl Watson said. "That was a big game, the biggest game of the year for us."

Countered Burks, who scored 13: "It's just one win. A game is a game for me. We have to keep fighting. Keep fighting. That was the difference tonight."

One last question, then: Will the Jazz, whoever they are and wherever they end up, fight like that every night?

Gordon Monson hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM, 960 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.