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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz have lost their share of games so far this season — 24 to be precise — but when the game is on the line, they are finding ways to win the games that are close.
The Jazz beat the Charlotte Bobcats 83-80 to bring their win total to 10. The Jazz keep losing big, but as long as the Jazz keep the game close they have a very good chance of winning any game late.
Does anyone remember the last game the Jazz lost in a game decided by less than six?
It's been a while — actually it was game two. The Jazz have only lost twice in such a game: the first and second games of the season. Now, to be fair, the Jazz lost in overtime to Sacramento, so that could count as well.
The point is, though, the Jazz are finding ways to win almost all the time when the game is close. Out of their 10 wins, seven have been decided by six or fewer points, two by fewer than 10, and one blowout.
The Bobcats battled their way back into the game and actually took a late lead with a Kemba Walker layup. With 1:15 left the Jazz were down 77-76. Then the young core of Trey Burke, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward took over the game like they have done in so many other close games.
The two plays that got the Jazz back on top were both broken, but their ability pulled them to the top. It started with Hayward driving to the basket and finding an open Favors for a dunk that put the Jazz back up.
“Just a broken play, but the spacing was a lot better — that's what we've been working on,” Hayward said. “The spacing we had allowed us to make that play, Favors was in the right spot and we had guys on the 3-point line so I was able to drive and make that play.”
The second time in two home games and wins Favors is responsible for the go-ahead score at the end of a game. He had never hit a game-winning shot before his dunk against the L.A. Lakers. This wasn't a last-second game-winner, but the Bobcats never led again.
It is no coincidence that the Jazz win close while most of their wins have come since Trey Burke has come back. The rookie has ice water running through his veins, the clutch gene and all the other clichés associated with a closer.
After the Jazz got a stop on the other end the Jazz needed another bucket to get comfortable. When the bucket needed to go down, Burke took control. The play was close to disaster to start. Burke threw the ball to Marvin Williams who started to cut toward the basket, Williams looked up just in time to jump back and grab the ball.
The clock was winding as the Jazz set up again — once Burke realized the clock was down he had to attack.
“That's why I went to basket,” Burke said. “There was about two seconds left and I figured he looked at the other shot clock and thought I was going to shoot the shot. I felt I could get a better shot and went out there.”
Burke slashed to the rim and hit a shot that allowed the Jazz to go up three. Favors did what he does best: blocked Ramon Sessions' layup, and Al Jefferson took a 3-pointer that went wide.
Favors hit a free throw and Hayward hit two to seal the game.
“Everyone on this team hates to lose and we are going to continue to do what we can,” Burke said. ”I think it starts on the defensive end and continue to win these close games down the stretch.”
The Jazz are making play after play when they can. The Jazz aren't a great team yet, but when the opportunity comes to win games they are making the plays. This won't happen every game, but in the years to come, as this core grows, this foundation will pay off more and more.