LOS ANGELES — The Utah Jazz looked like they were taking a restful Sunday afternoon nap at Staples Center there for a while.
While rubbing the sleep out of their eyes for this early 12:30 p.m. Pacific Time tipoff, the Jazz eventually found themselves trailing by — imagine this — double digits against a three-win Los Angeles Clippers team.
Meanwhile, the number of impressive baskets made by rookie Blake Griffin outnumbered the amount of sheep that Jazz players had counted.
Shortly after halftime, though, the Jazz stopped ignoring the snooze button, woke up and smelled the comeback victory — a 109-97 win over the struggling Clippers that took a while to materialize.
"We woke up a little bit in the second half," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said.
The bright-eyed bunch from Utah outscored this L.A. club 57-37 in the final two quarters and mixed in a zone defense to confuse the Clippers into 30.3 percent shooting in the one-sided second half.
That turnaround defensive effort sparked the 13-5 Jazz to their fifth win in a row, their sixth consecutive road victory and marked the eighth time this season they've dug out of a double-digit hole.
"This is a tough test for us after a big win against (the Lakers)," Willams said. "Coming on the road against a team that's under .500, sometimes you can fall asleep on them. We did a little bit of that in the first half, but we were able to regain it in the second."
The Jazz seemed like they woke up on the wrong side of the bed Sunday. Raja Bell, Earl Watson and Ronnie Price each were called for first-half technicals, and Utah seemed out of sorts.
The Clippers led 32-30 following the first quarter, then stretched their lead to eight at halftime after scoring 60 points on 59 percent shooting. Though he had zero dunks, Griffin had already hit the 21-point mark at the break.
"We came out in the first half and we didn't play so well," Jazz backup big man Francisco Elson said. "We were kind of quiet in the locker room and Coach (Jerry) Sloan told us to pick our energy up."
For a change, the Jazz turned the energy switch when the hustle and bustle bench was actually on the bench.
This time, it was the starters who played the role of the sparkplug squad.
"In the first half, we were very sloppy, probably because of the early game," Andrei Kirilenko said. "We didn't have as much energy right away."
Shortly after the Clippers took a 10-point lead early in the third quarter — entering the dreaded double-digit lead zone for Jazz opponents — Utah quickly found its power source.
Kirilenko, Deron Williams and Raja Bell each tossed in 3-point daggers, and the hot-shooting and feisty-defending Jazz ripped off a 13-0 run to go ahead 65-62.
The Clippers ended up only scoring 14 points in the third while missing 14 of 19 shots, and the Jazz entered the fourth ahead 79-74.
"We were able to zone them a little bit," Sloan said. "They were killing us with their offense, getting the kind of shots they wanted. Then we kind of slowed them down a little bit and they missed some shots."
The Jazz never relented after that, increasing their lead to 15 and closing out yet another come-from-behind victory over the Clippers. Utah rallied back from 18 points down at home on Nov. 6 to outlast the Clips in double overtime, 109-107.
"They basically quit. ... After we took the lead, you could see that they were missing assignments and making stupid fouls," Elson said, "and we just stayed poised and played Utah basketball."
While holding a seventh consecutive opponent under the century scoring mark, Utah's offense was solid all game. The Jazz shot 58.6 percent and got double-figure scoring from all five starters and sixth man C.J. Miles (16 points).
Williams topped the surging and resurgent Jazz with team-highs in scoring (26 points), passing (nine assists) and rebounding (five).
"Give Utah credit," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "They execute so well. ... Deron Williams gets them in their sets and they push the tempo when he controls the game.
"You knew they were going to make a run no matter what. Once they got control of the game, we were trying to fight back and fight back."
Griffin ended with 35 points and 14 rebounds and Eric Gordon scored 21 points for L.A. Outside of them, the Clippers were seriously outmatched with Baron Davis and Chris Kaman out with injuries.9 comments on this story
And L.A. simply had no solutions for the on-again-off-again gadget defense Sloan only occasionally resorts to but proved pivotal in this one.
"That definitely helped," Williams said. "It seemed like we couldn't stop anybody. They were hitting shots from everywhere. We went to that zone a little bit, switched in and out of it, giving them different looks, and I think it halted their efforts a little bit."
The Jazz, who play Milwaukee at home tonight, will happily trade a few extra winks to get those kind of results any day.