Mike Terry, Deseret News
The test was legit. The answers were impressive. And the class record remains perfect, for now.
The Jazz's 103-96 victory over Portland on Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena went so well, in fact, that even the professor who has taught forever acknowledged he kind of liked the results.
"We made some mistakes," coach Jerry Sloan said, "but I was really pleased with their effort.
"Everybody seemed to be involved in it," added Sloan, who closed with offseason acquisition Brevin Knight at the point and Ronnie Brewer subbing for sharpshooter Kyle Korver on defensive possessions. "Whoever was out there on the floor, everybody was focused on trying to win. That's what gives you a chance."
As a result, the Jazz now can not only win their fifth straight game at the start of a season for the first time since 2000, but also deliver Sloan win No. 1,000 with the franchise on their own home floor.
Utah plays host to Oklahoma City on Friday, and if things go as well then as they did Wednesday they'll be able to polish some milestone-making before taking off on a five-game Eastern road swing.
Not that Sloan cares about such trivial issues.
"I've never played this game for anything like that," he said.
"I'm fortunate to still be here, and the other stuff doesn't matter," added Sloan, who'll celebrate his 20th anniversary as Jazz head oach on Dec. 9 in Minnesota. "What really matters is what happens with the team, and I'm basically responsible for some of that - when we lose."
When they win like they did Wednesday, though, he was content to credit a now 4-0 club for fighting from 11 points down early in the third quarter, for hitting all but one of its free throws and for showing some early season late-game poise.
"We just hung in there," Sloan said.
The Jazz, playing for a fourth straight time without injured point Deron Williams, were still down by double digits at 75-65 with less than three minutes to go in the third.
But after Knight replaced replacement starter Ronnie Price with 2:45 remaining in the quarter, they slowly shaved at the Portland lead.
Knight used his first pass of the half to feed Brewer for a 3-pointer that ignited a 9-0 run, and after Andrei Kirilenko made 1-of-2 free throws with 7:02 left in the fourth they were ahead to stay at 83-82.
With Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Paul Millsap also all on the floor late, it looked like a group of closers quite comfy with each other.
"They've been together for a couple years," said Knight, who came in a summer trade with the Los Angeles Clippers.
"I'm the only one that has to fit in and make sure I can just keep the ship going the right way," he added. "And I'm feeling a lot more comfortable, and the guys are feeling a lot more comfortable with what I do and how I play."
Knight got much of the credit for what Sloan called "a wonderful comeback."
"B-Knight did such a great job creating open shots," said Okur, whose 22 points on 9-of-14 field shooting were a game-high and a season-high.
"Brevin got us in our offense," added Boozer, who added another 20 points. "We executed plays. A.K. (Kirilenko) did a great job of being a point forward a little for us there. And we hit some big free throws. The free throws were the reason why got stretched out a little bit."
The Jazz hit 21-of-22 overall from the line, including 16-of-17 in the fourth quarter - and 13 straight following Kirilenko's lone miss.
After Millsap made two freebies with 2:08 to go, the Jazz advantage stood at five, 97-92.
Portland did make it a one-point game with a Joel Przybilla tip-in and a Brandon Roy drive past Brewer with 47.8 seconds left.
But Boozer answered Roy's bucket about 19 seconds later with a Kirilenko-fed lefty layup that required some creativity, since the All-Star was basically on the wrong side of the backboard when he shot.
"Honestly I was trying to get contact and the foul," Boozer said, "and when I realized they weren't going to call it I had to go ahead and put it in the hoop."
Portland guard Rudy Fernandez missed a wide-open and would-be tying 3-point attempt coming out of a 20-second timeout with 20.9 seconds remaining, and the Jazz sealed their victory with 4-of-4 free throws - two by Boozer, and two by Millsap.
"It was a big-time win for us," Boozer said."Definitely," Knight added, "a test we stood up to."
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