SALT LAKE CITY — The smile was contagious.
From a room in the bowels of Vivint Arena, pure joy originated from Jarrell Brantley and permeated through everyone who witnessed the boyish smile that spread across his face.
“It’s amazing,” Brantley said, his bright smile growing ever wider. “These moments are amazing. Today was amazing. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but today was amazing.”
On Tuesday, the seldom-used forward lived the dream that he has been so close to obtaining on a regular basis. He scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting and grabbed four rebounds in 22 minutes in Utah’s 106-96 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Jazz were without Royce O’Neale, Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles on Tuesday — they needed anyone that could give them a lift. They found it in their reserve forward on a two-way contract.
“I kind of had a feeling, just the way things are going on this team,” said Brantley when asked if he expected that large of role on Tuesday. “But at the same time, I kind of try to tell myself every day that I’m gonna play, even if I know there’s no shot — but just mentally prepare myself to be ready and to be useful for my team. So I think in a lot of ways, I’ve been preparing for this moment since the beginning of the season.”
Regular NBA rotations are usually 8-10 players deep. For the players on the deep bench, it’s hard to get time on the court. Brantley has played in 17 games this season, but all have come in mop up duty in blowouts. A few seconds here, a couple minutes there — all of them inconsequential to the outcome.
On Tuesday, Brantley subbed in at the start of the second quarter with the Jazz down by 9 points. Suddenly, he had to play an important role. By the time he checked out, he had scored a layup, grabbed a rebound and assisted on a Donovan Mitchell 3-ball that put the Jazz up by one. Brantley had a team-high plus/minus in the first half.
“Most players at some point have heard, ‘Keep working, stay ready, you never know when your opportunity is going to present itself,’ and JB has done a great job of just doing exactly that,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.
And he wanted to show his teammates he was ready when he was on the court. As Oklahoma City shot free throws, Brantley went over to Mitchell and the two looked to have detailed conversation, pointing to spots on the court.
“I try to pick Don’s brain as much as I can; and honestly in those times, I want them to feel comfortable understanding that I’ve been paying attention,” Brantley said. “I want them to know that I know their movements and that they can depend on me.”
Georges Niang, who started his first game of the season in the win, knows the happiness that Brantley felt on Tuesday. He’s been in his shoes — on a two-way contract, being inactive, getting little to no time — and he knows how difficult it is to put in all the work and rarely see the results.
“The kid put in the work and he got to go out there tonight and show it off,” Niang said.
Brantley scored 8 of his 10 points in the second half, and his 3-pointer with 8:46 left in the game gave the Jazz their biggest lead of the night at 25.
“I don’t wanna say we weren’t impressed because we know he’s capable of it, but obviously we were impressed to see him do that in a game,” Niang said. “But more importantly just super happy for him because I know the grind of being on a two way and getting your opportunities and wanting to hit a grand slam, and he definitely did that, so I’m happy that he got to get out there and perform and play as well as he did.”