MINNEAPOLIS The Jazz scored one for stability over change on Tuesday night.
But they did so only after a rather shaky fourth quarter, making their celebration of Jerry Sloan's 20th anniversary as head coach a 99-96 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves a rather tenuous affair for the man who preaches consistency and preys on uncertainty.
"I thought we were gonna get our heads down a little bit," said Sloan, who downplayed the milestone meaning of it all. "But we fought back, and that's what you like to see."
The 14-9 Jazz trailed by nine points midway through the fourth, but center Mehmet Okur who kick-started the comeback by hitting a short fade-away jumper for two of his 21 points provided the final go-ahead basket with 1.7 seconds remaining.
Okur, fed by point guard Deron Williams on something of a mad-scramble in-bounds play, used a running floater over Timberwolves guard Kevin Ollie to put Utah up 97-96.
"I spun, really didn't know what I was gonna do with it," Williams said of his assist to Okur. "I saw Memo last minute. (He) really made a great shot, big shot."
It was at least the seventh game-winner in five seasons with the Jazz for Okur, who also had 13 rebounds to join Williams (12 points, 11 assists) and Paul Millsap (15 points, 10 assists) in the double-double department.
"Coach (Sloan) told us to take it to the hole, don't settle for jump shots," Okur said.
"I was gonna go all the way," he added, "but somebody was right there about to take a charge. So I kind of stopped and went up on one leg."
Minnesota playing its first game this season with longtime front-office boss Kevin McHale working in place of the fired Randy Wittman, a switch marking the 223rd NBA coach change since Sloan succeeded Frank Layden on Dec. 9, 1988 did have one last chance to take the lead back.
But 25-point, game-high scorer Ronnie Brewer got a hand on Rashad McCants' attempted in-bounds pass to 21-point scorer Al Jefferson, deflecting the ball to Williams in the left corner.
Williams was fouled by Randy Foye and hit the two resulting free throws, giving the Jazz extra cushion as they overcame a 21 free-throw fourth quarter for the 4-16 Timberwolves.
"I (asked) D-Will (Williams), 'Should I be in the passer's face or do you think I need to back up a little bit?'" said Brewer, the Jazz's starting shooting guard. "Right before he threw the ball, he told me where he (thought) I should be so I could him out a little better and defend on Al Jefferson."
He split the difference and it worked, allowing Brewer to celebrate a minor milestone of his own.
The 25 points were a career-high for the third-year pro, coming after Brewer had scored 21 five previous times including twice this season.
For that, an additional assist went to Williams.
"Since he's been back (from a sprained ankle), he told me to come off the screens hard, look to shoot first and then pass second," Brewer said. "At times I found A.K. (Kirilenko) and Paul (Millsap). But when I was open I was shooting, and the shots were falling for me."
That and, in part, Minnesota's seven misses on their 21 freebies in the fourth allowed the Jazz to enjoy not only Sloan's anniversary, but also a difficult-to-come-by road victory, just their fifth in 11 tries so far this season.
"We'll take 'em any way we can get 'em," Williams said.
"Missed free throws, missed jumpers, whatever. As long as we win, we're happy. But that (Minnesota's many misses from the line) definitely was a big part of the game."
"We showed a lot of heart by coming back," Brewer added. "We kept on fighting, kept on fighting."
Which really is a gift Sloan could savor.
So forget the china, which at certain points Tuesday Sloan might have been tempted to break anyway.
Cancel the cake.
Don't even bother with a card.
One more win No. 1,009 with the Jazz, 1,103 overall including his time with the Chicago Bulls should suffice.
"Our team has to develop more toughness to fight through stuff," the typically tough-to-satisfy Sloan said, "and I thought they showed that tonight, which pleased me a great deal."
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