Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Hours before the Utah Jazz took on the Dallas Mavericks, Al Jefferson admitted that it didn't matter when or where it happened nor what TV crew was there.
The Jazz simply had to be up to face the defending NBA champions.
"It could be a Sunday night game at the park," Big Al said. "You've got to come ready to play against them."
This one was on a prime late-night Thursday spot on TNT, and it was at EnergySolutions Arena — far from a park.
There was little doubt the Jazz were up to play and scrap against Dallas.
They just weren't quite up to beating them.
It was exciting and close, but not quite exciting and close enough for the Jazz, who dropped an intense and entertaining 94-91 playground-like battle to the Mavericks.
The loss snapped Utah's three-game winning streak, dropping the upstart Jazz to 9-5.
Utah trailed by nine at halftime but picked up its defensive intensity in the second half. After allowing Dallas to score 59 points in the opening half, the Mavericks were limited to 12 points in the third quarter (to the Jazz's 21) and just 35 points in the second half.
They ended with three points to spare, and earned that advantage in the last few minutes.
"It was just a lack of energy in that first half," Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward said. "If we would've come out in the (first) like we did the (second), we probably wouldn't have been in that position. You got to credit them. They made some plays down the stretch. They're a good team."
A chunk of the credit goes to Shawn Marion, who fired in 22 points to help Dallas (9-7) snap its two-game losing skid, despite arriving in Salt Lake after 3 a.m. on Thursday following a heartbreaking loss to the Clippers.
"He's a tough a player. He's a matchup problem usually," Hayward said. "He's got a nice little jump hook that's hard to guard. No matter how tall you are. He shoots it quickly."
Jefferson led the Jazz with 22 points and nine rebounds, while Paul Millsap totaled 16 points with 13 boards. Dallas native C.J. Miles contributed 17 points for the Jazz bench.
Hayward had a game-tying slam with just under three minutes remaining, but the more-experienced Mavs played like champs down the stretch.
Jason Terry hit a 3-pointer and then Jefferson couldn't come down with a defensive rebound, leading to a Marion inside hoop and a 92-87 lead for Dallas with 1:10 remaining.
Jefferson only hit one of two free throws in the final minute, and a Devin Harris airball on a long-ball attempt squelched the Jazz in the final seconds.
"They outexecuted us down the stretch. They did," Jazz shooting guard Raja Bell said. "Some of that comes from having played in those situations many a time on their way to a championship and us being inexperienced, but part of it is just us not executing the way we need to down the stretch and it cost us."
A stark comparison: Both teams made eight shots in the final quarter, but the Jazz took 27 attempts compared to Dallas' 8-for-14 shooting in that decisive period.
"They're good. That's a good ballclub," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "They did the things they needed to win. They made the big shots and they are a good team. We put up a good fight, but came up short."
Despite a slow start to their season, the Mavericks looked every part of the defending NBA champions that they are.
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