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'Shows his humility': Hardy trusted Jazz players for crucial adjustment in win over Pistons


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DETROIT — Utah Jazz coach Will Hardy walked into the locker room at halftime with a question for his team.

He had liked what he had seen from his team on the defensive end as the Jazz mixed things up between man and zone coverage. He thought it got Detroit off-balance a bit, despite the Pistons making a few difficult looks, but he figured he'd get a second opinion.

So he asked his players how they wanted to play defense moving forward in the game.

"They had clearly already had the conversation amongst themselves because they said, 'Man' in like under a second," Hardy said.

The Jazz were up by 1 point at halftime, and they beat the Pistons going away.

"The team made a great adjustment by telling me not to do any more zone in the second half," Hardy said. "They committed to playing man-to-man defense at a very high level in the second half, and I think that was a big part of the reason why we're able to win the game."

The halftime moment was yet another thing that highlighted Hardy's uniqueness.

This season, opposing coaches have consistently praised his distinctive offensive sets and the interesting ways he uses players. He's been called one of the bright young minds in the game and a potential future star coach. All that applause has been warranted; the Jazz have been one of the surprises of the league, and Hardy deserves a lot of the credit for that.

Yet, on Tuesday, he demonstrated that he has a humble side, as well. He thought the zone had worked; his players didn't. But he trusted them.

"It is fairly unique for coaches," Mike Conley said of the halftime moment. "(Some coaches) make a decision, they go out and they don't ask anybody anything except for maybe assistants; but he came in and looked right at me, 'You want to do it?' I was like, 'No, let's get back to man.' … That just shows his humility and understanding the game.

"It's not always black and white and you have to be able to talk to the players."

It's those interactions that have allowed Hardy and the Jazz to build such a strong relationship so quickly. Since the very beginning of training camp, he's preached that in order for this team to be successful, it had to do things collectively.

Every player has to help every other player; and sometimes the coach has to lean on the players, too.

"There's definitely times where as a coaching staff we have what we want to do and we have reasons for it and we'll explain that to the team," Hardy said. "And there's also moments where it is good for them to take ownership, because they're seeing and feeling the game from a completely different perspective than we are."

He sees things standing on the sideline. He's not chasing people around screens, or getting hit, or trying to overcome fatigue; his viewpoint can be limited, so he's made it a habit of talking to players during timeouts and stops in the action to get their takes on what is happening on the floor.

And sometimes, like Tuesday, he asks them what they want to do.

"He has a lot of trust in us and vice versa," Jarred Vanderbilt said.

So while Hardy thought the zone was doing what he wanted it to do, the Pistons were still having success against it. And with practice time having been limited on the midwest road trip, the Jazz players felt the zone rotations weren't very crisp. That made it hard to play as freely as needed.

"They might not be competing as hard in it or be flying around as much if they're not totally sold on it, in that moment," Hardy said. "And their conviction to want to go man was a really easy decision for us as a staff."

And then there was an added bonus: The players felt more of an ownership in the decision. They were the ones that wanted to play man, so they had to go show they could be successful doing it.

"If you tell coach, 'We're gonna do this,' you've got to go out there and execute it," Conley said. "I'm proud of the guys just getting that boost of energy. It kind of got us all going, got us more active, and changed the game."

And showed just how far trust can go.

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