LOS ANGELES — The Utah Jazz started Wednesday's game shorthanded, and they ended it even more outmanned.
"We were really hamstrung there for a little bit," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan admitted.
They were also — and this shouldn't come as a big shocker — behind the Los Angeles Clippers by a dozen points at one time, too.
But despite the challenges — or maybe thanks to the obstacles — the Jazz ended up on the winning side of the Staples Center scoreboard after gutting out a 103-95 victory over the Clippers.
"We were a little shorthanded," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "But we have capable guys on this team."
They needed them on this night, when they also had a few incapable players due to injuries and an illness.
The capable guys included a couple of players who had their best outings in Jazz uniforms, namely fill-in starter Gordon Hayward and center Al Jefferson.
Recovering-but-injured-again Mehmet Okur also chipped in his strongest showing yet this season before bowing out with a tweaked back.
Hayward started in place of Andrei Kirilenko (lower back strain), and had his best outing as a professional player. The rookie finished with career-highs in scoring (17 points), field goals (6-for-12), 3-pointers (3-for-5), rebounds (six) and minutes played (44).
"You know what," Hayward said. "It does feel good. ... I know I can play and I see it in the work that Jeremy (Evans) and I do every single day before practice. We both knock down shots and so it's good to finally be able to see it be applied in a game."
The Butler standout, who's had his fair share of downs with a couple of ups in his first year, was especially strong in the third quarter when he knocked down three straight buckets, including two threes, and scored eight consecutive points. That spurt came in a 30-13 third quarter for Utah, which trailed by six at halftime but seized control of the game in the pivotal period.
Jefferson also scored 10 of his game-high 31 points in the third to help Utah take an 81-70 lead heading into the fourth. Along with pulling down 10 boards, Jefferson hit 13-of-22 shots while topping his previous Jazz scoring high by four points.
"Gordon played great," said Williams, who had 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds. "He was aggressive, he shot the ball well, played good defense, got some hustle plays — Al as well.
"Al," Williams continued, "just took over in that second half and made some huge shots for us."
Circumstances required those big efforts.
Sloan's creativity as a coach got tested in a big way in what turned out to be the Jazz's 11th comeback victory after trailing by double digits. Three of those rallies have come in wins over the 10-23 Clippers, who have blown a combined 40 points' worth of leads in separate losses to 22-10 Utah.
Because of an injury and an illness, the Jazz were without two of their key contributors against the Clippers. But playing without Kirilenko and C.J. Miles (flu) wasn't Sloan's only challenge.
Eighty-eight seconds into the contest, Paul Millsap picked up his second foul guarding Blake Griffin. All of 31/2 minutes later, Millsap's replacement, Evans, followed him to the bench with his second infraction.
Minutes later, the Jazz found themselves wandering in the familiar territory called Double-Digit Deficit Land.
No problem for Sloan, who used all sorts of strategy, including zones, and creative combinations — such as throwing Kyrylo Fesenko and Okur on the floor together — as the Jazz fought back to only trail 57-51 by the break.
"We had Fes, Paul and Al out there at one point. We're a little thin if that happens," Williams said. "But it was a big win for us to bounce back from that tough home loss the other day."
The Jazz will get a chance to avenge Monday's 96-91 loss at EnergySolutions Arena to Portland in a Rose Garden rematch tonight.
Kirilenko and Miles will be game-time decisions, and it's unknown if Utah will have Okur back.
The Turkish center gave Utah a huge lift in the first half, when he scored 11 of his season-high 13 points in his fourth appearance back from his eight-month-long Achilles tendon rehab.
But Okur, supported by dozens of exuberant banner-waving Turkish fans, strained his lower back in the second half and was unable to play down the stretch after contributing his strongest outing since last spring. Okur's postgame X-rays came back negative and he'll be reevaluated today.
"He gave us a nice lift in the first half," Sloan said of Okur, who recently battled back from a sprained right ankle. "The second half he had a little problem and we had to take him out of the game. It's just part of what you have to deal with, and once you have an injury something else pops up and you have to work around that."36 comments on this story
Clipper Nation, which doesn't exactly expect many wins, got what it wanted out of this one.
Griffin had another huge game, complete with crowed-pleasing, rim-punishing monster dunks and enough points (30) and rebounds (12) for his NBA-best 20th straight double-double.