Mike Terry, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz were mere moments and one "L" away from spelling the word slump on Saturday night for the first time this season.
They were also not far from seeing if coach Jerry Sloan might implement a starting lineup alteration he openly pondered in his pregame media session when he said, "I may change it. ... We'll see what happens in the game tonight."
Change seemed inevitable after one of the Jazz's worst halves of basketball yet, when they found themselves behind the slumping Houston Rockets 52-38 and appeared headed to their first three-game losing streak of 2010-11.
For the 28th time, they were behind after the first quarter.
For the 24th time, they were behind at the break.
And for the 12th time, they trailed by 10 or more points at halftime.
"We were struggling in the first half," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said.
That was his mild description of Utah's latest slow start.
But by the time Al Jefferson had finished his big third quarter (14 points) and D-Will had dished out 11 assists after halftime and, of course, Paul Millsap happened (23 points in the fourth quarter and overtime), the bitterness of the first half seemed like a distant memory in Utah's locker room as a come-from-behind 103-99 OT victory was celebrated.
Once again, the Jazz showed how dangerous they can be when they play energetically on defense and execute their offense.
Houston missed 31 of 46 shots after halftime and the Jazz punished them with their precision and clutch shooting.
The life and energy that was missing in previous blowout losses to Atlanta and Memphis — two games in which the Jazz never held a lead — suddenly reappeared for this reinvigorated team.
"We played a lot harder. Defensively, we played a lot harder. We executed better," Williams said. "(We're) still not satisfied, still not where we want to be by any means, but we took a step forward in the second half."
The Jazz took Sunday off after playing games in Utah, Memphis and Houston in four nights.
They now have a rare break in the schedule with a couple more days of practice — to fine tune what went right and to rectify what had been going awkwardly amiss — before New York visits Wednesday.
At least the Jazz find themselves in the familiar territory of trying to work on early kinks that they ironed out in a win instead of needing to deal with further slumping issues.
Here's how familiar Utah has become with fighting back.
Saturday's win improved the Jazz's record to 7-5 when trailing by double digits at halftime; to 13-11 when down at the half; and to 17-11 after lagging behind at the end of the first quarter.
Utah is also 2-0 after having lost consecutive contests.
Don't be surprised if the Jazz open up some Rallies-R-Us shops next to Fanzz stores.
"It's who they are. They've been pretty good about that," Sloan said of his team's resolve to rally. "(Friday) was the (second) time we've lost back-to-back games, and to come back and try to win the ballgame tonight was certainly important — because of all the tough games we're going to have down the line."
"It says we've got a lot of heart. We've got a lot of guys who don't want to lose on this team," added Millsap, who scored 27 points with 10 rebounds. "But we've got to focus in and get off to better starts if we're going to continue to progress through the season."
Jefferson thought the second half showed what a focused Utah team is capable of doing.
"I came out in the second half, we all did, wanting to win," Jefferson said. "We knew we had to play better, couldn't lose three in a row, especially the way we was losing. I knew we had to make the run right then and there."
What's that mean for the possible change?
Who knows? Sloan might not even be sure at this point. But the coach did tinker with his lineups again, using Earl Watson aside Williams in the backcourt for extended minutes and playing rookie Gordon Hayward at shooting guard and Andrei Kirilenko as a power forward in the second half in different combinations.
But, perhaps evident that a change is not in the air, Sloan tightened his rotation in the overtime session when he only played the starting/closing five of Williams, Raja Bell, Andrei Kirilenko, Millsap and Jefferson.
"(Coach) did a good job of subbing guys out and knowing who was playing well," Williams added. "Guys came in and stepped up in that second half."
Better late than never, right?
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