Apparently, the Utah Jazz are contenders.
Tonight they beat a Los Angeles Clippers team hungry to improve their standing in the Western Conference, 110-102. It’s something they wouldn’t have done last season, couldn’t have done if we’re being honest.
Late in the 3rd and early in the 4th quarter, you could feel a momentum swing to the Clippers and the crowd's roar getting louder. The Clipper faithful were hungry for the Jazz to fall apart, something the Jazz had done regularly the last three seasons. But this Jazz team is different.
Down Jarred Vanderbilt, and looking for an answer, it came in the Young Bull, Collin Sexton. With the score close and the game on the line, Sexton took the reins and willed points on the board for the Jazz late in the game. He charged to the rim relentlessly, taking 9 free throws, a majority of them in the 4th. Without Sexton, the Jazz might not win this game.
And that’s probably the thing that defines this team, there’s always another head to the snake. The Clippers did all they could to keep the ball from Lauri Markkanen, who was tasked with guarding Paul George, and that meant opportunities for other players. Mike Conley had a big night scoring 17 with 7 assists. If you remove Mike Conley, you have to stop Jordan Clarkson, who was on fire from three going 6/9 and scored 23 points. In a weird way that’s the strength of this team, there isn’t one singular way to slow them down. If you stop one player, another one starts attacking.
All this wouldn’t happen if the Jazz weren’t so unselfish. They move the ball relentlessly but with purpose. There isn’t some superfluous blender; instead, it’s a well-sharpened knife in the hand of a skilled chef. Each cut has a purpose with the goal of creating an open shot, the constant goal. They’re also a high-IQ team and each player knows the different ways to bake a cake. Out of cocoa powder? We’ve got vanilla and cream, we’ll just make a vanilla cake this time. Oh look we have some limes, we can make a key lime pie. It’s the same mentality on the court. At one point in the 4th quarter, with the game on the line, Lauri Markkanen was looking for the ball in the post but noticed that Malik Beasley was open. Kelly Olynyk looked for Markkanen, but when he saw Markkanen signal to Beasley, he made the right pass, and Beasley knocked down the three.
This Jazz team might not have a top-5 player, but they have a top-5 record and it’s a lot of fun. Whatever happens, this has been a very fun ride.