The Jazz came into Saturday night’s game against the Heat on a three-game losing streak. They got back to Salt Lake City after a short trip to the Lone Star State, where they faced the Spurs and Rockets. San Antonio handled the Jazz easily; while the Rockets fought back to win another hotly contested game against Utah. The Good news from the road trip was that Rudy Gobert returned to play 15 minutes in Houston. The bad news was that Rodney Hood injured his ankle in that same game, and is listed as day-to-day. Having Gobert back for the Jazz is a huge first step as they look to fight their way back up the standings during the coming weeks. The Rodney Hood setback, and questions surrounding Derrick Favors’ health will be an issue for this young team. Not to mention the continued absence of Alec Burks. Gordon Hayward has a heavy burden as the only consistent scoring threat in the Jazz’ backcourt. He would need a strong performance against Miami to fill the gaps. With this team facing tremendous adversity, Saturday night’s win was a much-needed shot in the arm for the Jazz.
Miami has one of the most potent guard lines in the league. Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, and Luol Deng all have the potential to score. Another intriguing matchup in this game was between Hassan Whiteside and Rudy Gobert. Both players got on the NBA’s radar at the end of last season with their stellar defensive play. Whiteside is averaging nearly four blocks a game. Gordon and Rudy were both up to the challenge.
Rudy Gobert made his first start since November 30th against Golden State. His impact was felt right away. His first basket was a put-back dunk off of a missed floater by Raul Neto. That type of consistent cleanup play has been missed, as Trevor Booker has been the only Jazz player filling that role in Gobert’s absence. Rudy came out half way through the quarter and the Jazz immediately began to miss his defense. Miami scored an easy driving layup right after Gobert came out. The Heat poured on the offense during the latter half of the first quarter. Goran Dragic went for 11 points. The Heat finished the quarter up 10, 29-19. This was not the start the Jazz were looking for. Miami shot very well, and the Jazz struggled to score.
But the Jazz started the second quarter with more energy than they had in the first. They put together two good runs to get within striking distance. Their defensive intensity was punctuated with a Jeff Withey block that turned into a nice stop. Withey followed that effort with a powerful dunk on the other end. The Heat were shooting over 60% for much of the second quarter. Still, the Jazz fought to slow them down. However, they ended up needing a solid shooting performance of their own to stay close. While the Heat continued to shoot well, the Jazz matched their pace to close out the half.
Utah finished the half shooting 5/12 (42%) from three and 18/35 (51%) overall. Miami finished the half at 20/36 (56%) overall, and 3/5 (60%) from three. Still, with both teams shooting well, the halftime score was only 49-45 in favor of Miami. Utah did well to slow the pace of the game, and keep the Heat in check. The Jazz did well to fight back from 10 points down, cutting the lead to 4. It’s especially significant considering that Rudy Gobert played limited minutes towards the end of the half. Jeff Withey continued to be impressive on defense for the Jazz, as he has been the entire time Rudy Gobert has been out.
As the second half began Rudy Gobert forced a turnover and attempted to finish a fast break on his own. His effort was unsuccessful, but it sparked the Jazz on both ends to see their seven-footer running the floor with protective knee gear. The Jazz got themselves into the lead with back-to-back threes, but Miami couldn’t miss. Chris Bosh got Miami back in front with a three, and the Heat continued to hit contested jumpers. But Gordon Hayward took complete control of the game. He scored 18 points in the third quarter, including the Jazz’ last 13 points. This is the type of performance that Jazz fans have been waiting for. In the absence of the Jazz’ two other wing scorers, Gordon asserted himself as the star of the team. The Jazz finished the quarter with a 72-68 lead.
The Jazz built on their lead to start the fourth quarter. Joe Ingles got the crowd energized with a long three, and Raul Neto hit a signature-flying jumper in the lane. The biggest applause of the night came when Hassan Whiteside missed his second free throw in a row, securing everyone in the arena free Chik-fil-a. The Jazz poured it on after that, building a 13-point lead with 1:27 left in the game. Utah kept the pressure on and Chris Johnson hit a huge three to completely put the nail in the coffin with under a minute left. The Jazz won it 98-83
After a series of setbacks this team showed a tremendous amount of resolve. Gordon Hayward’s third quarter performance typifies this team’s character when they face adversity. They have had so many opportunities to fold on the season, but they continue to play at 100%. Gordon’s 34 points were exactly what the Jazz needed from him tonight. He showed that he is still the heart and soul of this team. Gordon’s big game was complimented by a tremendous performance from Chris Johnson, who started in place of Rodney Hood. Johnson’s defensive effort on Dwyane Wade was nearly flawless. Wade was held to 8 points on 3/17 shooting. Johnson had two blocks on Wade, and also played well on offense. He finished with 14 points on 6/9 shooting, including 2/3 from three. Quin Snyder has done an excellent job of getting players to respond when their name is called. We’ll see if this huge win can translate to continued success. The Jazz will face the Lakers in L.A. on Sunday, before travelling to Portland on Wednesday.
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