On Nov. 22, the Portland Trail Blazers beat the visiting Utah Jazz in a blowout that put Jazz head coach Will Hardy into a pretty foul mood.
“I was angry. I’d had enough,” Hardy said of his mood that night. “There are moments where you have to just draw a line in the sand and say enough’s enough.
“And you know, there are always going to be things that happened in a game that can be frustrating to not only the coaches but the fans…but there are certain things that are just absolutely unacceptable that I’m not going to put up with while I’m here.”
His message to the team was clear — if you want to play, you have to play hard and care.
On Saturday night, the Jazz had a chance at some redemption against the Blazers, this time at the Delta Center.
Of course, they wouldn’t have the easiest go of things with Lauri Markkanen, Kelly Olynyk and Jordan Clarkson all sidelined with minor injuries.
But the reserve Jazz squad stepped up, and they were able to pull out a win in pretty thrilling fashion, beating the Blazers 118-113 in overtime.
The Jazz are now 3-2 in games that followed that Nov. 22 contest, and although that’s not a stellar record, they have seen quite a bit of a shift in the mood, effort and effectiveness of the players.
“I think we’ve made strides,” Hardy said. “They heard the message for what it was. They didn’t feel like they were being personally attacked. They know that I still love them all, but the way that we played in that game and on that road trip was unacceptable.
“That’s not who we want to be as an organization, beyond just our basketball team, so I think if we play with the passion that we’ve shown lately, that we’ll be able to build really good winning habits.”
Through these last few games the Jazz have made strides but it’s been by committee. Not only are they being asked to play harder and execute with more precision, but it’s been while three of their best players have been in and out of the lineup, so they’ve needed everyone to really step up.
On Saturday they needed the 25 points on 13 shots that Collin Sexton brought off the bench and they needed the nine points and 15 rebounds and the physicality that Ömer Yurtseven provided.
The Jazz needed big defensive moments from Walker Kessler, Talen Horton-Tucker, Keyonte George and even rookie Taylor Hendricks who had two huge blocks in the second quarter.
“Tonight we had to do it together,” Sexton said. “If we did it separately it was gonna go the other way, we were going to lose. Tonight I felt like we had to buckle down and help one another.”
Hopefully the next few days allow the Jazz time to heal a little. The team doesn’t have another game until Wednesday when they play in Dallas against the Mavericks.
That could mean that we see the return of some of the players that have been nursing injuries (Markkanen a hamstring, Clarkson a thigh contusion and Olynyk a shoulder strain).
But even if the Jazz do get back some of their veteran players, that doesn’t mean they can return to playing selfishly. The expectation is that they’ve turned a page and hopefully the win over the Blazers symbolizes that change.