Every time the Jazz (14-12) have shown signs of cracking or falling down this season, Utah has risen up. And every time this year's Jazz team has flirted with turning into the disappointment that was the 2010-11 version of Utah basketball, a proud and resilient squad has fired back, answering the call while refusing to splinter and divide.
The Jazz outhustled, outfought and outworked Memphis (14-14) on Sunday. In doing so, Utah captured one of its best and easily its strongest and most meaningful win of 2011-12.
"We needed this one," said forward Gordon Hayward, who scored a game-high 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting and clearly outplayed the Grizzlies' Rudy Gay. "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."
Al Jefferson added 21 points and a game-high 15 rebounds for the Jazz, who ended a three-game losing streak and began a back-to-back-to-back series in the best way possible.
All three games are on the road and mark the first time since Utah's 1998-99 campaign also abbreviated due to a lockout the team will play three in a row without rest.
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.
"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.
Coach Tyrone Corbin began the Jazz's road journey by bringing his unproven team together. He took Utah to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis on Saturday, wanting to show his team what sacrifice, commitment and togetherness were truly about.
It was a bold move. And it worked.
After the win, Corbin joked Utah might have to hit up the World War II museum in New Orleans before facing the Hornets on Monday, or at least turn the team's morning breakfast into a museum-like tour of their hotel.
But during a postgame interview that saw the second-year coach lifting his head up as high as he has all season, Corbin also knew that his team-building exercise had hit home. The Jazz can compete with anyone in the NBA when they play the right way. And after spending the last two weeks falling backward, losing eight of 12 and dropping into the bottom tier of the Western Conference, Utah leapt over the crossroads it was facing and will now fly to New Orleans with major momentum.
"If we do the right things and we continue to stay together and count on each other, this is the kind of basketball we can play," Corbin said.
Jazz backup point guard Earl Watson's pregame message to Hayward: "Let it fly."
G-Man did just that. So did his team, which shot 50.6 percent (42-for-83) from the field, dished out 26 assists and outscored Memphis 54-40 in the paint.
Gay's 22 points topped Memphis, which committed 19 turnovers and was held to 22 points or fewer in three of four quarters.
The Grizzlies small forward saw in Utah everything Memphis was not: aggressive, fearless and united. And in Hayward, Gay caught a star on the rise.
"He got out there. It seemed like he was the one that was benefiting off all our mistakes," Gay said. "If there is a hustle play, he goes out there every night. He's tough, and a lot of people on [the Grizzlies] can learn from that."
R 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 gave Utah a five-point lead.
Utah at New Orleans
P Monday, 6 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports