Utah Jazz: Losing streak snapped as Jazz defeat Wolves
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY Deron Williams was taken away from them Friday because of a wrist injury, and the Utah Jazz lost Mehmet Okur for the second half against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Dont forget about those six straight games that opponents snatched from them, either.
That being the case, Jerry Sloan's slumping squad, which had been losing so much lately, used disparate measures in their desperate times.
The Jazz stole in broad EnergySolutions Arena light a much-needed victory from the T-Wolves. A season-high 20 steals, including a career-high six from Paul Millsap and five by Andrei Kirilenko, sparked Utah to a 108-100 win over Minnesota.
They didn't uncork any bubbling bottles, but the Jazz's first win in two weeks at least allowed the franchise and fans to exhale a little easier.So what if the victory came against a 10-win Minnesota team?So what if the victory came against a 10-win Minnesota team?
"It is a relief," forward Andrei Kirilenko said. "It's big time to finally leave it behind and start over."
Did someone say big time?
Kirilenko had one of his classic AK-47 stat-sheet-filling performances, scoring a season-best 27 points with seven assists, six rebounds, five steals and a blocked shot.
That output nicely complemented the game-high 30-point outing from Millsap, who was a gametime decision because of his right thumb injury.
Then there was the gutsy game by Earl Watson, who played an energetic 39 minutes after replacing Williams (hyper-extended right wrist) in the starting lineup.
C.J. Miles also added a big boost from the bench with 22 points and seven rebounds.
Sloan specifically mentioned the sparkling performances of those four players, who helped snap Utah's longest losing skid in three years and prevented the team from its worst slump since the 26-win season of 2004-05.
Sloan especially liked the upbeat tempo by Watson, who had his first Jazz double-double with 13 assists and 10 points.
"When you've lost six straight, the most important thing is we won the game," Sloan said. "I thought our guys really played hard. We need everyone to play well for us to be able to get a win with D-Will out and some guys getting banged up."
Sloan also thought his players were effective and active defensively for much of the game, perhaps a sign of how badly the Jazz really wanted this win.
Minnesota had a hot-shooting first half (51.2 percent) that kept the T-Wolves right there with Utah, which led 58-55 at the break. But the Jazz clamped down later in the game to hold the visitors to 45 second-half points and force them to miss 14 of 20 fourth-quarter shots.
Utah also had 11 of its season-high 20 steals after halftime.
Miles said "activity" was the key to the game-changing thievery.
Added the small forward: "Guys helping, guys trying to get to the ball, scrambling, being in the passing lanes and being active and not just standing there. ... We aren't the biggest team, but we have good length, big hands and athleticism and when we play that we're effective."
That energy and effort reappeared Wednesday in the close loss to the Spurs after it was seemingly nowhere to be found in disappointing defeats to Washington, New Jersey, Boston and Philadelphia.
Despite playing better even without their leader and All-Star the Jazz still only held a one-point lead at 92-91 with under seven minutes remaining.
But Utah held Minnesota scoreless for exactly four minutes while building a safe lead thanks to a 7-0 run.
"I liked the style of the game when we are being aggressive and getting a lot of deflections," Kirilenko said. "Everybody was concentrating to get the position right and help their teammates. I think we did a pretty good job at concentrating on those things, which helped us win the game."
Which just happened to be their first win since beating Cleveland here 121-99 on Jan. 14.
While improving to 28-19, Utah scored 30 points off of the 10-36 T-Wolves' 25 turnovers.
"I thought we got our hands on a lot of balls tonight," Sloan said. "It was good because when somebody made a move our guys tried to get in there and dig the ball out.
"Their guys were going to the basket on a number of occasions and we came away with the ball. That put us in the open court where we have a chance to get a couple easy baskets."It didn't result in an easy win.
But the Jazz will happily take what they got.
NOTES: Utah hits the road Sunday night at Golden State before returning home Monday against Charlotte. ... Ex-Utah player Kosta Koufos did not dress for Minnesota. ... The Jazz scored 32 points in the first quarter, which was the most Utah had scored to open a game since Dec. 1 (35 vs. Indiana). ... Al Jefferson missed 11 of 14 shots for eight points but pulled down 14 rebounds against his old club.
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