OKLAHOMA CITY — Up by eight points, just more than three minutes to go, seemingly cruising to victory.
Sound familiar? It sure does to the Utah Jazz, who one week ago were in that very same spot. But the end result last Saturday at Miami was a blown lead in regulation, and eventual triple-overtime loss.
There would be no repeat Friday night in Oklahoma City.
Utah held on down the stretch, beating the Thunder 101-94 at the Ford Center to move into a records tie with Portland for sixth place in the NBA's Western Conference and second place in the Northwest Division.
It was the second straight victory for the 43-26 Jazz, who started a stretch with 6-of-7 games on the road with a five-stop trip that included the debacle in South Florida.
"We've got to learn from our mistake," power forward Carlos Boozer said, "and we did tonight."
The Jazz were up by nine points at halftime in Oklahoma City, where earlier this season they were embarrassed by the now 19-50 Thunder — their lone loss, in fact, in their last eight outings against the former Seattle Sonics. They pushed that lead to 11 during a third quarter in which point guard Deron Williams scored 12 of his team-high 24 points and dished four of his game-high 11 assists.
"The way DWill took over that third quarter gave us a huge cushion," said Boozer, who scored 15 points to join Williams, Paul Millsap (14), Mehmet Okur (12), C.J. Miles (11) and Kyle Korver (10) in double figures.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said Williams, who missed 13 games early this season with a sprained ankle, "was able to take the ball to the basket, probably, tonight as well as any time he's played this year — getting on top of the basket, and really exploding once he got there."
Williams, who said his Achilles tendon was a bit sore postgame, suggested he was responding in the third to two first-half occurrences.
One was the early exit of starting center Mehmet Okur, who left with 6-of-8 field shooting after getting poked in the eye in the second quarter. The other was the aggressive play of Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City's 20-year-old rookie point guard.
"Young fella (Westbrook) was trying to come at me in the first quarter a little bit," 24-year-old Williams said.
"I was trying to get everybody involved in the first half. I thought we were doing a good job executing, so there was no need for me to force things and get eight turnovers (like in last Tuesday's sloppy win over Washington)," he added. "(But) Memo goes down; he was the hot hand in the first half. So I just felt like I needed to get it going a little bit."
Because he did, the Jazz were quite comfortably ahead with just a few minutes to go. Of course, it seemed that way, too, when both time and the lead were mismanaged in Miami.
Which was not at all forgotten Friday. "In the huddle we said, 'Look, if you get a breakaway, unless (you're) by yourself, hold that ball. The clock's our friend right now,' " Boozer said. "So we made that clear."
"We knew what we had to do at the end of the game," Millsap added. "We've lost a lot of games coming down to the end off of silly stuff."
Sloan still was less than amused, especially after Oklahoma City twice got to within five in the final 33 seconds — forcing Korver to seal the win with 4-of-4 free-throw shooting in the last 31.6.
"Our big guys got our heads down a couple times and started dribbling the basketball," the Jazz coach said, "instead of getting it back out to Deron (Williams) so we could get in our offense and let him make the decision on what we were gonna do."
Williams, though, was able to laugh a bit, even over a last-minute miscue by Korver — who, instead of calling a timeout, chunked the ball downcourt from the baseline for a turnover.
"(We) gave them a little life," Williams said. "But ultimately, we closed out the game pretty well — aside from Kyle throwing it to Jeff Green in the end zone."
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