Some Utah Jazz players watched the Lakers-Clippers game on a big-screen television inside the locker room while they prepared to face the Golden State Warriors. Others followed the contest on cellphones while riding on the late bus to the arena. Coach Tyrone Corbin just checked the final score when the Lakers lost.
”You could see the look on everybody’s face change,” Jazz guard Randy Foye said. ”Nobody said anything. It was just everybody had that look on their face, `You know what time it is. You know what we have to do.”’
While the Warriors had a chance to seal a playoff spot, Utah seized the opportunity for itself.
Mo Williams hit a huge 3-pointer in the final seconds to finish with 25 points, Al Jefferson added 19 points and 12 rebounds and the Jazz regained the Western Conference’s final playoff position over the Lakers by holding off the Warriors 97-90 on Sunday night for a monumental road win.
”I can’t say enough about this group of guys,” Corbin said. ”This was all about them and them wanting it, and the way they came out. Although we made some mistakes in the game, everybody laid everything they had in them out there on the floor.”
Williams’ 3-pointer with 13.4 seconds remaining put Utah ahead by six and spoiled Golden State’s shot to clinch a playoff berth in front of a 29th sellout crowd of 19,596. The Jazz moved a half-game ahead of the Lakers for the eighth seed. Utah also owns the tiebreaker after winning the season series 2-1 against the Lakers, who lost to the Clippers 109-95 earlier in the day.
”Four games left. We’ve got have them,” Jefferson said.
Stephen Curry scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half and Klay Thompson had 20 points for the Warriors, who were trying to clinch a postseason spot for the first time since 2007 and just the second in 19 years.
Now that celebration will have to wait.
David Lee, who has never been to the playoffs in his eight NBA seasons, added 21 points and 13 rebounds for Golden State, which was outplayed inside by Utah’s front line of Jefferson, Derrick Favors (12 points, 13 rebounds) and Paul Millsap (11 points, six rebounds) most of the way.
”We still control our own situation, which is good, but you don’t want to have this feeling again,” Curry said. ”We’ve got to get it done and there’s no excuse for us not to.”
The Jazz looked every bit like a team playing with everything at stake, just as Corbin had hoped before the game. They outhustled and outmuscled Golden State for most of 48 minutes, holding off one final flurry for a critical win in front of the an Oracle Arena crowd eager to celebrate.
After the Warriors went down 11 points late in the fourth quarter, Thompson and Curry each hit a 3-pointer to cut Utah’s lead to 91-86 with 3:28 to play. Reserve Draymond Green followed by tipping in Lee’s miss to bring the Warriors within three.
Jefferson hit a jumper that silenced fans standing all over the arena, then Lee answered with a layup to bring the crowd back to full throat. Golden State forced another stop, but wasted the offensive opportunity.
Green had his layup blocked by Favors, who keyed Utah’s defense all game, but got the ball back and tossed it out to Jarrett Jack – who missed a contested 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down. The Jazz isolated Williams at the top of the arc against Green, and he drained the shot that sent Utah home with a monumental win.
”I don’t know what’s going on with them, to be honest,” Williams said of Golden State’s playoff-starved crowd. ”We’ve got enough going on with us.”
The Warriors are just a game ahead of Houston – which owns the tiebreaker after winning the season series 3-1 – for the West’s sixth seed. Golden State still needs any combination of two wins or losses by the conference’s ninth team to seal a playoff berth.
”They played like a team that their playoff lives depended on this game,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. ”We played, at times, like a team that had a cushion.”
Curry kept the Warriors close by scoring the first nine points during his team’s erratic start, which included four turnovers in the game’s first 4:12. He made his first three shots from the arc, the last giving Golden State a 38-29 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Jazz erased that deficit in fewer than four minutes behind a 17-4 run capped by Gordon Hayward’s 3-pointer. After going ahead by 10 points on consecutive deep 3s by Foye and Williams, Utah held on for a 56-48 halftime lead.
Golden State sliced Utah’s lead to a point in the third quarter before the Jazz took control again. Jefferson converted a layup over Jack to start a three-point play that highlighted a 10-1 spurt that put Utah up 75-65, a deficit the Warriors never could overcome.
”No way,” Favors said, ”did I want to see them celebrate.”
NOTES: Utah won the season series 2-1. … Jazz reserve F Alec Burks sat out with a sprained right ankle, which occurred during Utah’s win over New Orleans on Friday night. He is day to day. … The Warriors signed G Scott Machado from Santa Cruz of the NBA Development League to a 10-day contract.