SALT LAKE CITY — During the break between the third and fourth quarters, Utah Jazz players try to rile up the EnergySolutions Arena masses with messages on the scoreboard video screen.
Fans are enthusiastically encouraged by guys on the home team to be loud and energized for the final 12 minutes of action. The pre-taped pep talk includes a humorous blurb by Andrei Kirilenko, who imitates his doppleganger boxer from Rocky IV by menacingly blurting out, "I will break you!"
The Jazz forward even manages to pull off Ivan Drago's Russian accent pretty well.
All the rah-rah rhetoric seems to be working. Utah has been great at breaking the will of teams in the fourth quarter this season. The Jazz are 16-0 at home when they enter the final period — to much fanfare, thanks to the video — with a lead.
That perfect mark — one the Jazz hope to improve on tonight beginning at 7 against the visiting Portland Trail Blazers — includes Utah's strong finish Monday night when the team turned a one-point lead after three into a 104-92 blowout win by dominating Dallas down the stretch.
"So," said Jazz point guard Deron Williams, "we just need to keep getting the lead going into the fourth quarter."
They aren't just finding fourth-quarter success in Utah, either.
The 29-18 Jazz are 24-1 overall when they're up after the first 36 minutes. That one loss came against Dallas in the fourth game of the season when Dirk Nowtizki personally erased Utah's double-digit lead after three with a phenomenal 29-point fourth-quarter flurry in the Mavericks' win.
The fact that Nowitzki only scored two points in the fourth on Monday is a reflection of what Paul Millsap says is a much improved "will not to lose" Utah has found.
Millsap credits "good leaders" for sparking the team to improved defensive and offensive execution with the game on the line. Jazz coach Jerry Sloan says his players are taking better care of the ball, and Carlos Boozer believes the good endings begin and end with solid defense.
"We're real disciplined in the fourth quarter," Millsap added.
Sloan extolled the practice-makes-perfect theory before, yes, practice on Tuesday as being a key to less-error-prone play and late-game success.
"We've done a good job," he said, "passing the basketball and executing a little better since we've had time off to have practices (and) run our offense quite a bit."
Not botching late leads might also be a sign this team that's been one of the NBA's youngest for several seasons is growing up.
"You can definitely see us maturing (and) just finding a way to finish off teams," Williams said. "That's been something that's plagued us the last couple of years, and we're finally figuring out how to put teams away when we get them down."
The Jazz, however, struggle to win when they are the ones fighting from behind. They're 4-16 overall and 0-10 on the road when they trail entering the fourth.
Maybe they need to watch that scoreboard show in the huddle in those situations.10 comments on this story
Williams certainly thought Jazz players and fans were pumped up for the big finish Monday night when the team won its sixth straight game.
"I thought the energy was great, especially in the fourth quarter," he said. "I thought the hustle plays were definitely the difference-maker. ... We got on the floor. We hustled. We made those plays. We got the crowd excited."
And they generated that excitement the way a coach would prefer — by their actions, not their words.
NOTE: As a reminder, tonight's tipoff has been changed to the usual 7 p.m. start because the game will no longer be televised on ESPN.