Wednesday’s buzzer-beating, last-second, come-from-behind victory over the NBA-leading San Antonio Spurs wasn’t a surprise to Jazz center Al Jefferson.
He offered up a game plan after the team’s morning shootaround and, sure enough, he and his Utah teammates made it happen.
“That’s going to be very important tonight, we can’t panic and get down when they make their run,” Jefferson said. “And we’ve got to expect San Antonio’s gonna make a run back.”
The Jazz fell behind 26-16 in the first quarter but, just as Big Al predicted, they held together and didn’t get rattled. Utah cut into the lead late in the first quarter and pulled ahead before halftime.
Much like a heavyweight prize fight, the two combatants traded blows throughout the second half. By keeping the fight close, the Jazz gave themselves a puncher’s chance in the fourth quarter and it paid off when point guard Mo Williams sank a deep 3-point shot to give Utah a 99-96 win.
“When you’ve been playing against the Spurs as many times as I have, you know how they operate,” Jefferson said afterward. “When we were up seven or eight points, I felt like we were down. That’s the way I wanted to play, like we were down seven or eight points. I knew they were going to make their run.
“When they made their run we didn’t panic. We got stops when we needed it and played great (defense).”
Jefferson stole a pass from San Antonio’s Danny Green with 1:47 left and finished with a dunk on the other end, tying the game at 94-all. Seconds later, after a Spurs basket, Paul Millsap tied the game at 96 with an 11-foot jumper in the lane.
Williams, who had been struggling, launched a picture-perfect 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Utah the win.
“We just stayed together, we didn’t panic no time during the game,” Jefferson said. “Even when things didn’t go our way — there might have been some questionable calls or whatever the situation was — we didn’t panic. We just kept playing.”
San Antonio came in with the league’s best record and the Spurs were used to getting their way, especially in the fourth quarter. By resisting and continuing to push back, the Jazz showed they weren’t going to fold.
“It shows we are a good team,” Williams said. “A team like that, with four minutes to go they’re up six or seven points, they’re tough. They don’t panic, they always know what they’re gonna do.”
Williams said the Jazz knew the Spurs’ plays and the options they run off them. The plan was to take away the first option, then the second and, if possible, even the third.
“That’s what happened,” he said. “You just continue to fight. You don’t panic.”
Afterward, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich blamed Williams’ buzzer-beating 3 on poor defense.
“That’s a huge defensive error,” he said. “What do you think a guy is going to do with two seconds left on the clock? You make him drive. You don’t step back on Mo Williams.”
Popovich assigned Green, a larger guard, to defend Williams, believing the size difference would force Williams to drive. However, Green backed off and give Williams room to shoot the game winner.
“Huge defensive error that cost us the game,” Popovich said.