Mustafa Shakur, Othyus Jeffers, Hamady N’diaye, Kevin Seraphin and Cartier Martin.
Those were all of the players available for the Wizards off the bench last night in Utah. Shakur didn’t play (coach’s decision being the given reason), and N’diaye tallied just three minutes in the box score, nothing else. Jeffers, Seraphin and Martin combined for 18 points on 6-14 from the field and 17 rebounds, five offensive thanks to the bruising workmanship of Jeffers. The numbers of the bench squad with the most unique set of names ever weren’t astounding, but the Wizards made it work in their somewhat shocking 100-95 overtime win over the Utah Jazz on Monday night.
Sure, Utah was missing Devin Harris and Andrei Kirilenko from their starting lineup, instead putting out a unit of Earl Watson, C.J. Miles, Raja Bell, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. But a Wizards starting five of John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Mo Evans, Yi Jianlian and JaVale McGee didn’t have a chance of feeling sorry for the Jazz, or themselves.
Jazz fans, however, may be feeling sorry for themselves … enough to boo their team at intermittent times throughout the game as Washington fought to gain control early, and then tried their best to relinquish it late, despite Utah’s best effort to not take advantage. It was odd to hear the Wizards television team of Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier recount just how far the Utah franchise has fallen in the year 2011. The Jazz were 27-13 when they made an east coast trip in mid-January, beginning with a game in Washington on the 17th.
Jerry Sloan’s team proceeded to lose to the Wizards on Martin Luther King Day, and then they lost five more in a row. Barely a month later, Sloan resigned after a 23-year run with the team and star point guard Deron Williams was traded to New Jersey. Now the Jazz are left in a vastly uncertain rebuilding mode with Tyrone Corbin as their coach, a six game losing streak (including last night’s take down by the Wizards), and a 36-39 record that looks to keep them out of the playoffs for just the fifth time in the last 28 years (also the fifth time in the last eight years, to be fair).
Yesterday was Jerry Sloan’s 69th birthday. Yesterday was also the first time Washington completed a season sweep of Utah since 1997. Yesterday things were a bit different for all.
The Wizards prevailed for just their second road win of the season, guaranteeing themselves to not match the 1990-91 Sacramento Kings with the worst road record in NBA history at 1-40. Let’s break for some video action…
John Wall did it with his size and moxie to get to the rim. As seen, Utah’s Earl Watson was relentless with his pressure on the ball, but physically he didn’t stand a chance. Wall scored 24 first-half points and finished with 28 on 10-20 shooting and 8-10 from the free-throw line to go with his seven assists, two turnovers and six rebounds.
Jordan Crawford couldn’t buy a bucket from deep, going 1-10 from three-point land, but the inefficient manner in which he scored his 25 points on 25 shots could be deemed more than acceptable on the night. When the Wizards were desperate for offense, Crawford was there. When Utah fans were propelled alive by their team’s attempt to steal the game back from Washington late in regulation, Crawford was pouring ice water down his veins and hitting a tough baseline jumper in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 85. When extra basketball came calling, Crawford was there for two steals that led to four points in the first minute of overtime.
Yi Jianlian fouled out with just six points and five rebounds in 23 minutes, but his presence as an option on offense was just as key as the two huge blocks he had on Utah penetrating the lane. Mo Evans also dealt with foul trouble, but always made himself present for loose balls, key offensive rebounds and huge buckets, scoring seven of the Wizards’ 15 points in overtime. And JaVale McGee fought late-game fatigue and once again secured long-armed rebounds, 17 of them total, five offensive, while playing within himself more than fans are used to seeing.
There are several team and individual factors one can point toward in talking about the Wizards’ win over Utah. Jazz fans are certainly licking their wounds over a 10-21 performance from the free-throw line. Or maybe they’re upset that Al Jefferson is pouting and didn’t see action in the fourth quarter. Or their frustration might stem from the fact that when the Wizards were simply missing shots, opening the door for Corbin’s team, the Jazz were busy fumbling away opportunity by dribbling off their foot or turning the ball over in a number of exasperating ways — Utah had 18 team turnovers that relinquished 21 Wizards points while Washington had 13 turnovers that led to 14 Jazz points.
But most importantly, even more important than Washington limiting stupid, unforced mistakes (credit due to McGee again, who has really stepped up his game as of late), was that Flip Saunders’ Wizards played through their mistakes. They didn’t get down, they just kept pushing … with a bench crew named Mustafa, Othyus, Hamady, Kevin and Cartier and a starting crew named John, Jordan, Mo, Yi and JaVale. And that’s progress that the remaining faithful fans of the team can be proud of … at least for one road game on one night.