It was more than effort. More than energy, teamwork or a united fight. It was youth. Youth that carried the Jazz on Friday night, and youth that captured Utah's first victory of the 2011-12 season.
Rallying from a 13-point second-quarter deficit, the Jazz edged the Philadelphia 76ers 102-99 Friday night at EnergySolutions Arena before a sellout crowd of 19,911.
The game marked Utah's (1-2) home opener and first official contest in Salt Lake City since April 13, due to the NBA lockout.
When the battle was over, coach Tyrone Corbin breathed easier, laughed loudly and spoke with pride. Gordon Hayward, 21, talked of confidence reacting instead of thinking, pulling the trigger instead of just passing. And Derrick Favors? The 20-year-old power forward who didn't learn he was starting at center until he saw Al Jefferson's name removed from a locker-room dry-erase board about 45 minutes before tipoff took the next step toward what he spent last summer striving for.
Favors poured in a career-high 20 points on 10-of-16 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds and at times absolutely dominated the paint. He was a beast throughout and often downright nasty, wrestling for loose balls and clogging up the lane with his long arms and muscular frame. He refused to settle and refused to back down against 76ers (1-2) center Spencer Hawes. And when Favors walked off the court, he looked like it was just another day at work. He chewed his mouthpiece, strode with a swagger, slapped fans' hands, entered an ESA tunnel and then met his 11-year-old brother, Brandon, inside the Jazz's locker room.
After being benched Friday morning for Paul Millsap, Favors responded like a 10-year-veteran. He didn't flinch, didn't pout. When he learned he was a last-minute replacement for Jefferson, he told Big Al he would step up and hold the line.
"I'm a basketball player, and I do whatever coach wants me to do," Favors said. "If he wants me to come off the bench, I'll come off the bench. If he wants me to start, I'll start."
Whatever Corbin decides, he acknowledged it's getting harder and harder to keep Favors off the court. The second-year player appears to improve with every single minute he clocks, which is a key reason Corbin made him Utah's starting power forward for the first two games of the season.
Early foul trouble plagued Favors during embarrassing blowout road losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver. But he looked like a completely different player Friday, and the Jazz looked like an entirely new team.
Forced to go young with Jefferson out, Corbin turned to Favors, Hayward and 19-year-old Enes Kanter during crucial stages of the game. Kanter responded with six big rebounds and two strong, quick moves in the paint. Hayward finished with 15 points on an efficient 5-of-9 shooting, and he drilled a key 18-foot jump shot with 30.2 seconds to go that made it 101-97 Jazz.
The basket put Philly away and was the first sign the No. 9 overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft could one day be a deadly late-game closer for a Utah team without a true No. 1.
"That's one thing about becoming a pro: You've got to be able to take those shots," Hayward said.
The Jazz took control Friday. Devin Harris kicked up the tempo and was clearly more aggressive. Utah's defense stuck together instead of falling apart. And after spending the past three days wondering and worrying about the state of his young, rebuilding team, Corbin finally saw what he was looking for: life.
"I thought our energy level was up and, defensively, I thought we did a great job communicating with each other," Corbin said. "The guys did a good job of coming together and pushing each other. The communication in the huddles was great."
Jefferson (inflamed right ankle) will be a game-time decision Saturday at San Antonio. He missed his first contest for the Jazz after starting all 82 games last season. Jefferson said the injury traces back to 2006 and recently flared up, leaving him unable to walk Friday without a limp.
R In short • The Jazz look like a completely different team and rely on a youth movement to edge Philly.
Key stat • Derrick Favors records a career-high 20 points and grabs 11 rebounds.
Key moment • Utah bridges the third and fourth quarters with a 7-0 run to take a 74-73 lead.
Jazz at Spurs
P At AT&T Center,San Antonio
Tipoff • 6:30 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Jazz 1-2, Spurs 2-1
Last meeting • Spurs, 111-102 (April 9)
About the Jazz • Al Jefferson (inflamed right ankle) missed Utah's game Friday against Philadelphia. Derrick Favors, who was initially moved to the second unit, played center in his place. … Utah lost all three games to San Antonio last season.
About the Spurs • San Antonio fell to Houston, 105-85, Thursday on the road. … Manu Ginobili leads the Spurs in average points (18.7), Tiago Splitter tops the team in rebounds (7.3) and Tony Parker is first in assists (6). … San Antonio is averaging 98.3 points and allowing 92.3.