The Utah Jazz had to work extra hard in order to go into the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against the Miami Heat tied at 88.
Had the Jazz been able to score at their normal clip, had fouls not been a problem, had Lauri Markkanen been able to make a single 3-pointer, maybe things would have been easier.
Instead, the Jazz battled through a ton of foul trouble, Markkanen had gone 0-of-7 from deep through the first three quarters, and as a team the Jazz were shooting just 16.1% from distance. And yet, they were still able to keep the Heat from pulling away.
“Our defense overall had been very good,” Jazz head coach Will Hardy said of how the team played through the first three periods. “Guys’ attention to detail was very good offensively.
“You know, the 3 ball wasn’t going in, but we ended up with 60 points in the paint, so you just continue to find ways to score. I thought we drove the ball well.”
The game continued to stay tight for the first few minutes of the fourth, and thanks to big shots by John Collins and Jordan Clarkson, the Heat weren’t able to pull away.
But with 6:17 left in the game, Kelly Olynyk, who had been working hard to keep his teammates involved all night, found rookie Keyonte George on a quick cut to the basket and the flood gates opened for George.
On the next trip down the floor, Olynyk found him again, this time on the left side of the arc, and George knocked down the 3.
“I think I just started being confident in myself, taking the type of shots that you kind of have to take in the flow of the game,” George said. “Then you see a couple go through and the rim looks humongous.”
George would go on to hit two more 3-pointers in the quarter and score 12 of his 21 points in that final 6:17 of play. What stood out the most?
“Just how poised he was,” Olynyk said. “He never got sped up, he got us into what we needed to get into, made the right reads, and then obviously stepped in and made huge shots over and over again.
“The only time they kind of went on a run, whatever happened, the ball ended up in his hands and he made a huge shot. But yeah, just his poise and his calm and collectiveness.”
George had felt like he was due a big game. After being sidelined for nearly two weeks because of a foot injury, he came back and has been playing off the bench in a role that he’s been trying to navigate.
Then on Saturday he seemed a little off at the beginning of the game.
“Keyonte obviously was in — funk is the wrong word — but he was in a little bit of a funk there early in the game,” Hardy said.
“He couldn’t quite find a rhythm, had a couple uncharacteristic turnovers and he kept his head, continued to play hard and made a bunch of big plays for us down the stretch.”
What’s more, George getting hot in the fourth seemed to be contagious. After not being able to score for most of the night, Markkanen hit a 3-pointer with 1:53 left to give the Jazz a 114-106 lead.
The Jazz would end up winning this one 117-109. It was the defense and the tenacity of players like Olynyk and Collin Sexton that kept them afloat through the first three quarters, but it was the level-headed rookie who took them through the finish line.