The Utah Jazz (47-29) defeated the dangerous, but not dangerous enough on this night, Washington Wizards (46-30) by the healthy margin of 95-88. Before the game it was billed as a “pay back” game for the Wizards who were embarrassed by the Jazz in their gym last month. And it was the 3rd best team in the East against the 4th best team in the West. There were a number of stories to go around, especially one where the mighty Wizards back-court of John Wall and Bradley Beal were going to light up Utah, especially with the injuries one of these two teams were facing. (Defensive guards George Hill and Raul Neto both missed their second straight games.)
The one story no one was talking about before was Shelvin Mack playing against the team he was a part of as a rookie. The Shelvin Mack “revenge game” wasn’t something anyone expected. Utah’s 4th stringer, playing with five fouls in crunch time, played tough defense, made good decisions on the break, and found ways to score - keeping pace with explosive scorer Bradley Beal (who would finish with 27 points) and locking down John Wall (who would shoot 6/22).
Now, it was a team effort where everyone was helping out on these perimeter players - so props go all around to Dante Exum (+6 in +/-), Joe Ingles (4 steals), and the whole crew. But I think we can easily applaud Mack’s play in the absence of Hill and Neto. Especially in these games against people like Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, John Wall, and Bradley Beal. Shelvin Mack isn’t supposed to be in the same gym as them, but he has been holding his own for sure.
As for the game outside of the game within the game (the revenge game) (man, you could make a drinking game about every time Amar types the word game in this run-on sentence), the Jazz were up by 10 but the Wizards fought back and didn’t give in at all. D.C. wasn’t shooting well at all, but they were crashing the glass and, for the most part, taking care of the ball. They won the second quarter 22-18, and played to a stalemate in the third 22-22.
Outside of the early jump by the Jazz you could argue that the Wizards were the better team. Especially when they scored 5 points in the first 45 seconds of the fourth quarter and took the lead. On the road. In Utah.
Of course, they didn’t have any injuries (how are teams this lucky?) and really got a big assist from the Jazz missing so many free throws (the Jazz would “shoot” 19-31 for the game, .613%). So maybe Washington having a lead in the fourth shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Even when Utah turned up their defensive intensity (9 steals for the game, 7 blocks, 14 turn overs forced), Washington didn’t seem to panic. Down by 5? Marcin Gortat taps back an offensive rebound to Beal who drains a three. 50/50 ball? Kelly Oubre Jr. gets it and gets a layup. Beal drives and gets a tough lay-up and-one. Washington is a good team.
Utah was missing bunnies near the basket, and incapable of getting the ball to Rudy Gobert in the paint in the fourth. So they weren’t at their best. But they still managed to sweep Washington. For academic purposes:
- East Sweeps (Eight teams):  Washington Wizards,  Milwaukee Bucks,  Atlanta Hawks,  Detroit Pistons,  New York Knicks,  Philadelphia 76ers,  Orlando Magic, and the  Brooklyn Nets.
- East Splits (Four teams):  Cleveland Cavaliers,  Miami Heat,  Indiana Pacers, and the  Charlotte Hornets
- Swept by East (Three teams):  Boston Celtics,  Toronto Raptors, and  Chicago Bulls
Aside from the Bulls debacles, the Jazz have pretty much owned the East - except in the case of shoot first point guards like Isaiah Thomas and Kyle Lowry. (Kind of wish the Jazz were sweeping more West teams, though.)
This is a great win for this team, Gordon Hayward played like a star down the stretch as well. Rudy was Rudy. Joe Ingles and Boris Diaw make vet plays that matter. Rodney Hood started off on fire. Dante Exum hit two threes and made some tough layups. Joe Johnson and Jeff Withey combined for 13 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 blocks off the bench.
It was a short rotation for Quin Snyder, DNP-CDs for Alec Burks, Trey Lyles, and Joel Bolomboy. But it worked. March ends, and April begins. There are six more games on tap. Two are against the Portland Trail Blazers, who just lost their starting center Jusuf Nurkic for the next two weeks. Their center rotation already had two guys shut down for the rest of the season in Ed Davis and Festus Ezeli. This is a little bit of good fortune for Utah.
But it still lies on them to win the games on the schedule, regardless. (Thanks, Carlos!)