"We read five times that you were killed, in five different places."
"As you can see, it was true every single time."
For the third consecutive game, the Jazz came back from a deficit 17 or more in the second half to win. They are the first team to do so since the shot clock was introduced. They put a big deficit on the board, and Utah tears up the deficit. While it takes a miracle to get out such spots (and the Germans have outlawed miracles), somehow the Jazz keep finding ways to do the impossible.
In order to have a heroic comeback you need to have two things happen. First, you need to dig yourself a gigantic hole... we’re talking at least 12 feet deep. Secondly, when your opponent peers over the edge of the hole to make sure you are out of commission, you need to drill him right between the eyes with a tornado kick. Let’s try and figure out how the Jazz manage to execute this two part process.
Falling behind by 20 points is not as difficult as it might sound. In fact, a team made up of SLC Dunkers could probably manage to fall behind an NBA team by even more. But how is it that the Jazz specifically keep building up massive deficits?
Their preferred method seems to be falling out of synch. It’s as though half the team is playing the "Marseillaise" and half is playing "Die Wacht Am Rhein." Time after time a pass is delivered not quite where the recipient was expecting it- assuming the recipient was even expecting it at all. On defense, the rotations have been more than a step slow, which suggests that certain confusion remains over which player on the floor has which responsibilities.
If you want a culprit for the Jazz’s lack of synchronicity, you might was well round up the usual suspects. Raja Bell and Al Jefferson have seen major minutes even though their mastery of the system has been, shall we say, incomplete. It’s important to note, however, that the problem is not merely that the new players (and we should include Gordon Hayward in this discussion as well) don’t do things exactly how the Jazz veterans have come to expect. Coach Sloan actually runs the system slightly differently both in order to make things easier on the new guys and, more importantly, to take advantage of their particular skills. Thus some of the returning Jazz players are mentally humming the same old tune not bothering to look down at the page to see whether any of the notes have changed.
Okay, even if agree with me so far... how can a team that gets so far out of synch in the first half suddenly pull it all together in the second? It may be easy to fall behind by 20, but it definitely isn’t easy to seize the lead from a team that had you on the ropes. As Rick Blaine says, "We all try. You succeed." The Jazz’s comebacks have been the result of excellent coaching, dogged determination, selflessness and luck.
The coaching staff has done an excellent job of making in-game adjustments. The Jazz’s selective deployment of zone defense was the key factor in turning the tide in the Clippers and Magic games. The way Jerry Sloan managed the Miami game reminded me of the Yatta game against Cleveland last year. In every situation the Jazz played the clock just right, made the right substitutions, and attacked exactly what the other team was conceding at the moment. If you were wondering why a coach who never won a championship or a COY award was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, you need look no further than the second half of the Miami game.
When a team falls behind big, the easiest thing in the world is to check out mentally. Especially on a long road trip or as a part of a back-to-back, it becomes awful tempting to concede the game at hand and to question whether you shouldn’t save your effort for the next game. The Jazz were determined not to let that happen. You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we'll die. Against the Clippers it was Andrei Kirilenko letting ‘em fly. Against Miami, at halftime Raja Bell looked the team in the eye and said "Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win". Against Orlando, Deron Williams took the ball right at Dwight Howard dared his teammates to stop trying.
The most encouraging thing about the Jazz’s string of epic comebacks has been the selflessness the team has displayed. Al Jefferson realized that he had neglected to bring his talents to South Beach, and so he sat out during all the important parts of the Heat game without a single complaint. In the NBA, not every role player can accept that sometimes the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Props to Kyrylo Fesenko for actually suggesting to the coaches that they pull him for Francisco Elson. And after Earl Watson and Gordon Hayward played a combined 4 minutes last night, they had nothing but supportive things to say.
Finally, and most importantly, there’s the luck factor. Eric Gordon had a decent look at a bankshot to win the game, but couldn’t hit it. Udonis Haslem saw Paul Millsap behind the 3 point line and mistakenly said "Go ahead and shoot. You'll be doing me a favor." Dwyane Wade makes those end of the game runners a lot more often than he misses them (or at least he gets the benefit of the superstar bailout call.) And if the Magic had known in advance that basketball rules forbid traveling with the ball, they would have been nearly unstoppable.
I think this is the beginning of some beautiful basketball. Going forward, we probably can’t count on luck favoring the Jazz all the time. Coaching, determination, and selflessness are much less elusive; I see no reason why the team can’t keep those things going as the season continues. On top of that, eventually the kinks will get worked out and everyone will know what to expect from one another. Given enough time, the new guys will be every bit as comfortable in the system as the old guys. Throw in Mehmet Okur, and the Jazz seem to have a bright future ahead of them. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of the season.