by Christopher Kamrani, special to Salt City Hoops
It wasn’t about Atlanta coming into EnergySolutions Arena and emerging victorious for the first time since Janet Reno was appointed Attorney General.
It wasn’t about the Hawks—wheels up on the charter flight home—having been sanctified from a nuclear fallout only the Portland TrailBlazers could relate to after crumbling in the fourth quarter the night before against Golden State.
It was about the Jazz running on empty, and finally stalling in the middle lane of a blistering streak of impressive and victorious play.
As the scoreboard read 105-100 in favor of the visiting Hawks, the Jazz were dealt the first loss of dejection in 12 days. An eternity in the NBA.
Who would’ve thought Utah would sweep a reasonably-tough four-game roadie only to come home to the friendly confines of ESA and drop one? If you saw Sunday evening’s epic in the Rose Garden minute-by-minute, you’d have found some sort of solace in Monday’s loss to Atlanta.
The Jazz, plain and simple, just ran outta gas.
Consider the team’s gas tank on ‘E’.
Consider that Deron Williams couldn’t go because of a right thigh contusion.
Consider that Andrei Kirilenko’s back acted up not five minutes into the first quarter Sunday in Portland, Ore.
All things now considered: Utah played as well as they could against a superiorly athletic (not to mention pissed-off) Atlanta team.
The team shot 48.2 percent from the field. Outrebounded the lengthier Hawks by a margin of 10 and turned the ball over an acceptable 11 times. There was work put in by Sundiata Gaines. By Kyrylo Fesenko. By Wes Matthews. Kyle Korver seems to have found his stroke with an impressive statline of 13 points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists in 29 minutes played. Jazz fans cannot ask more from Korver on any given night.
Now, this is what we, as observers of this team, were waiting for. What will the response be?
Will the injury bug hit a team that has been relatively un-jinxed for quite some time? Can this team remain on such a high-level on both sides of the ball throughout the next 26 games?
With 15 remaining away from ESA, the Jazz have many minds around the league convinced. Folks will say this loss against Atlanta is understandable.
No Williams. No Kirilenko. No fuel.
The team played with intensity Monday night. It did not flop the way it did at the hands of the Lakers in the final game before the All-Star weekend. Where things get sticky is the rotation that will need to be ironed out over the next month or so. Who’s going to play?
Ronnie Brewer is unfortunately glued somewhere to a couch, his right leg propped up on an ottoman donning Grizzly navy blue. With one less weapon in the arsenal, where does Sloan find the line-ups that are effective enough against a slew of versatile teams?
Does CJ Miles continue to get the first nod over Korver? Miles, who has been dubbed as the future of the two-guard position for five years running still has yet to commit on the defensive end of the ball. He shoots too much. He misses too much. Miles has the ability to be a stalwart defender, but has yet to open that locked door. You saw Brandon Roy smell blood in the water Sunday night once Miles was instructed to shoo him away from the hoop. Williams had to bail his teammate out, and did so in spectacular fashion. But what happens when Williams isn’t there to cover?
That help defense has been the key to this run over the last month. As coach Jerry Sloan has noted, the team is playing for one another — offensively, defensively and everywhere in between.
On Monday, Jazz fans were able to look at an abstract starting five against the Hawks.
If I’m Sloan, I am starting to give a long hard look into Gaines as the primary backup for Williams over the next few games. Gaines may not be as familiar with the offense as Price, but he plays under control, something Price seems to ignore.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. All teams need a Ronnie Price on your roster. He’s the janitor. He does things other players won’t. And he’s successful in doing so. Price has shown tremendous strides when playing in the same backcourt with Williams, playing on or off the ball. The former UVSC product is a two-guard trapped in a point guard’s body. No one disputes his ability to play the game, and they shouldn’t. But when it comes to crunch time, a zero-to-sixty approach isn’t always what’s needed.
The beauty of this Jazz team is that everyone can chip in. Kosta Koufos, hang in there, big guy.
Fesenko is playing. Not talking. Not joking. Not oafing. Playing. Playing to his potential as one of three 300-lb. big men in the league.
You saw the influence he had in Portland. Dude was +20 off an extremely-thin Jazz bench.
Monday night’s loss to Atlanta probably won’t mean much in the long run. Utah did miss out on tying Denver for the second spot in the Western Conference. But, considering the circumstances, a hard-fought loss is better than a no-fight loss.
How Jerry Sloan will get the right guys into place at the right time remains to be seen, but refueling begins tonight.
In the meantime, the Jazz go to bed knowing they lost to the Hawks at home for the first since the Buffalo Bills became the first (and only) team in NFL history to lose three straight Super Bowls.
Let’s keep the big picture in mind: fill her up, please.
Chris Kamrani is a lifetime Jazz fan and former sports editor at the Daily Utah Chronicle. Follow @ckamrani on Twitter.