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Memphis, Tenn. • Earl Watson's pregame message to Gordon Hayward: Let it fly.
G-Man did just that.
The second-year Jazz forward played more like an NBA All-Star than a rising star, scoring a game-high 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting and lifting Utah to a crucial 99-88 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday at the FedExForum.
Jazz-Grizzlies box score: http://bit.ly/AtZ2US
Al Jefferson added 21 points and a game-high 15 rebounds for the Jazz (14-12), who ended a three-game losing streak and produced one of their best and most electrifying wins of the season in the process.
Utah's locker room buzzed after the victory, with players saying this is what can happen when the Jazz stick together, attack from the jump ball and never relent.
"We needed this one," Hayward said. "We were on that fringe of not being in the playoffs, so we really need every single game. Especially with a team that's right there next to us."
The victory tipped off the start of the Jazz's only back-to-back-to-back series of the lockout-shortened season. All three games are on the road, and mark the first time since Utah's 1998-99 campaign also abbreviated due to a work stoppage the team will play three in a row without rest.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin instructed his unproven team to not back down from and not be afraid of the challenge. Against the Grizzlies (14-14), Utah never flinched.
"Definitely proud of this team. We came out tonight with a chip on our shoulder," said forward Paul Millsap, who contributed 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting and eight boards.
Rudy Gay's team-high 22 points topped Memphis, which committed 19 turnovers and was held to 22 points or fewer in three of four quarters.
Utah entered Sunday's game with little momentum and much to prove. The Jazz had dropped five of six and eight of 12, and entered Memphis facing a crossroads.
In addition to pumping up the increasingly confident Hayward, Watson said before tipoff that Utah had to give its best performance during its back-to-back-to-back against the Grizzlies. By setting the agenda in the first game of their journey, the Jazz would prove to themselves that they could emerge from the trip with a winning record which is exactly what Jefferson said his team had to do after falling to 13-12 Friday following a home loss to Oklahoma City.
Utah initially heeded the words of Watson and Jefferson, firing away from the opening tip and playing in the up-tempo, full-attack style that's been Jazz basketball at its best during 2011-12.
Utah took a quick 13-4 lead that turned into 22-10, following Hayward's charge and by turning defensive stops into easy transition baskets.
The Jazz controlled the tempo, at times formed a defensive wall the Grizzlies couldn't penetrate, and ran the court with passion and energy often only shown this season at EnergySolutions Arena.
But Memphis closed the first two quarters strong, and a team gaining confidence while learning how to play without injured star forward Zach Randolph pulled within 46-40 at the break.
The Grizzlies' rise continued in the third. Gay found his touch, Marc Gasol and Marreese Speights locked up the middle, and Memphis took its first lead of the game via a Mike Conley three-point play with 5 minutes, 3 seconds left in the period.
But Utah kept countering. Hayward never backed down, Millsap began to share the offensive load with Jefferson, and the Jazz carried a 69-66 advantage into the fourth.
Utah kept its edge as the clock wound down. Corbin relied on a second unit featuring Watson, C.J. Miles, Josh Howard, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter to keep Memphis at bay. And by the time Jefferson and Millsap returned, Utah was on the verge of passing the first test of its three-game road journey.
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In short • The Jazz begin their back-to-back-to-back on a high note by downing Memphis.
Key stat • Utah outscores the Grizzlies 54-40 in the paint.
Key moment • After falling behind by two midway through the third quarter, the Jazz's bench give Utah a five-point lead.