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Analysis: Jazz regroup after a tough week and rally for a win on the road against the Raptors

SHARE Analysis: Jazz regroup after a tough week and rally for a win on the road against the Raptors
Utah Jazz’s Collin Sexton applauds during his team’s win over the Toronto Raptors in an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

Utah Jazz’s Collin Sexton applauds during his team’s win over the Toronto Raptors in an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, in Toronto.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP

TORONTO — The Utah Jazz continue to be a team that you really can’t bet against.

Even when they’re down 13 heading into the fourth quarter and they just traded away four players and one of their leading scorers is sidelined because he’s sick.

Even then, the Jazz are just a plucky team full of players who don’t want to give up.

That’s what happened on Friday night against the Toronto Raptors. The Jazz played to their strengths and they came back in the fourth quarter with a vengeance and went on a tear before walking away with a 122-116 win that they desperately needed.

Regrouping after a rough week

The Jazz had their two worst losses of the season before Friday night’s victory. Against the Mavericks on Monday, Jazz head coach Will Hardy said it was the first time this season that he’d come away from a game disappointed in the team’s focus and effort.

On Wednesday against the Timberwolves, the shock of the deal that saw four players scratched from the game just before tip-off was unsettling and you could just see that the Jazz were thrown off.

But the cloud of the trade deadline has been hanging over this team for a couple of weeks. There’s been a tension and unease in the locker room that was unlike the earlier months of the season. That cloud seemed to lift on Friday in Toronto.

It’s not as if the players are completely over the fact that they had to say goodbye to teammates after just a couple of days, but there was clearly a sense of relief talking to the players.

“I Think that the clarity helped everybody’s mindset and I’m just very, very proud of their approach,” Hardy said after the game.

“The nerves of the trade deadline are over, the uncertainty of all that is over which helps settle everybody’s mind. Everybody understands kind of where they fit on our team in this moment.”

And of course, winning helps heal just about as good as time does in the NBA.

“I think it was really, really good that we won tonight, especially the way we did,” rookie Walker Kessler said. “Obviously I miss those guys a lot (the players who were traded) but I’m excited about this team and excited about the new guys coming in … and the win was just much needed.”

The fourth quarter rally

The Jazz not only were fighting an uphill battle to start the fourth quarter, but were trailing by 13 points with just over five minutes left to play.

I’d already started writing a ‘Jazz lose’ story and then the Jazz went on a 22-5 run to close the game.

The Jazz had some scoring magnificence from Lauri Markkanen, who was named an All-Star starter earlier in the day, and Kelly Olynyk, Walker Kessler and Collin Sexton to help them secure the win, but it was the defense that stood out the most, especially on Pascal Siakam.

Though Siakam, named an All-Star injury replacement on Friday, finished the night with 35 points, he had just four points in the final quarter.

“I thought we did a good job of not letting Siakam get to his right hand and get downhill. He’s a problem. He’s going to the All-Star Game for a reason,” Hardy said.

“And I thought we did a good job of containing he and (Scottie) Barnes for the most part driving the ball. I thought we did a good job of not letting VanVleet get easy looks … it was just about staying the course and trying to control what we can control, and the guys did that.”

On the road again

The Jazz had a short road trip at the beginning of January, then they had just two one-off road games the rest of the month — one in Minnesota and one in Portland. Outside of those two games, the Jazz were at home for the last 4 12 weeks, which just feels wild compared to how heavy the travel schedule was to start the season.

While the homestands have been great for the players to recharge and find some normalcy in their routine, especially during a really tough part of the season, they’re more than ready to be back out on the road again and they think that the long homestand might help them stay resilient as we near the All-Star break.

“At the beginning of the season we had a crazy schedule,” Kessler said, “but I feel like we’re definitely ready to go now. We’ve been home for some wild amount of time and so we were kind of itching to get back out on the road.”

The Jazz will finish out this four-game road trip with stops in New York, Indianapolis and Memphis, then it’s All-Star time.

Following the All-Star break the Jazz will have just 22 games left in the 2022-23 season and those games will be perfectly split, 11-11, between home and the road.

Because this season has been so different from the previous seasons, with new players and surprises and twists, it feels like it’s flown by a little. But ready or not, we’re approaching the home stretch.