PORTLAND, Ore. — The Utah Jazz played with fire again.
But this time they did the burning.
For the fourth time in five road contests, the Jazz fell behind by double-digits. Just like in those previous games, Utah scraped and clawed its way back into it.
Unlike in Atlanta, Boston and Los Angeles, however, the Jazz not only overtook the Portland Trail Blazers, but they held on for an unlikely 102-97 victory at the Rose Garden.
Before the game, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin talked about how important it was for his players to know what situations they were in, and they responded in a big way in this near must-win game.
"We needed this win bad, and it showed how we played out there," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "We got down big early, but the will not to lose, the will to want to make it to that next level … it came out."
Because of situations, some funky lineups, clutch performances, never-surrender rallies and, honestly, some old-fashioned good luck also came out.
The Jazz actually had to come back twice — once from a 14-point hole in the first half and then again from a 97-94 deficit in the final three minutes after the Blazers erased their 11-point lead.
"I thought our guys did a great job of just staying in there and fighting it out," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Nobody fought harder than Millsap, who had a toxic game against the Trail Blazers with 31 points and 11 rebounds. Millsap's dunk with 1:11 left after a Raymond Felton turnover gave the Jazz the lead for good.
Millsap added another bucket — off of a Jamaal Tinsley steal and assist — with 20 seconds remaining.
The Jazz then sealed the losing-streak-snapping victory when Nicolas Batum missed a tying 3-point attempt, and Gordon Hayward grabbed the rebound and then hit a pair of free throws.
"P-Diddy, what can you say about him? The guy always getting his numbers any way he can get it," Tinsley said about Millsap. "We rely on him, Al (Jefferson), down in the paint. Gordon had a good game. It was an overall win for us."
The win improved Utah's record to 28-26, keeping the Jazz a full game behind also-victorious Houston for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Hayward finished with 20 points for the Jazz, who also got double-doubles from Jefferson (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Derrick Favors (11 points, 11 boards).
Former Jazzman Wesley Matthews scored a career-high 33 points in the loss, which dropped Portland to 25-29 and likely out of the playoff scene.
The first quarter looked like a re-enactment of Saturday's rough start in Los Angeles against the Clippers. While the Jazz concentrated on stopping Portland's interior game, the Blazers looked like they were shooting off of racks in a 3-point contest.
Matthews hit two treys in the period — and scored 12 points — and the Blazers were 5-for-6 from long range. Meanwhile, that helped open things up inside for All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 14 of his 27 points in the opening period.
Despite talking from Saturday night until Monday morning about getting off to better starts, the Jazz found themselves trailing double digits after one quarter — 35-22 (after falling behind to the Clippers 38-22 in that eventual loss).
"They locked in. We were disappointed in the first quarter," Corbin said. But, he added, "Guys did a great job of picking the intensity up."
Portland had a 14-point lead midway through the second quarter until Utah exploded before halftime.
Things changed when Corbin threw a curveball into his normal lineup rotations.
Desperate for a spark, Corbin inserted Jefferson to give the Jazz a big frontcourt that also included Millsap and Favors.
"You can play me at the 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, it doesn't matter. I'm going to get out there and try to play it to the best of my ability," Millsap said of the lineup change that had him playing small forward. "We had a mismatch on the offensive end, and defensively we were able to get bigger and cut out some of their touches down low."
The Jazz's Big Three went to work, scoring 20 points in the final five-and-a-half minutes of the half.
The Blazers' big lead was trimmed to a meager three heading into the locker room after Millsap hit a fading turnaround shot with 5.9 seconds remaining.
More creativity — and clutch play — was required of the Jazz in the second half. Point guard Devin Harris left the game late in the second quarter with a sprained left ankle. He hoped to return after icing the joint at halftime, but he was ruled out for the second half.
"That's why we've got three point guards," Harris said.
With Harris out, Corbin turned to reserve Tinsley to start the third quarter with Hayward and the unconventional Big Three.
That lineup continued to mesh, even building an 11-point lead in the third quarter before Portland began chipping away to make a game of it in the end..
The tired Jazz fell apart in the fourth quarter, and it seemed Portland might eke this one out after Aldridge scored four straight points to tie it and Matthews put the Blazers up three with a long ball at the 2:35 mark.
But, knowing what was at stake, the Jazz gutted it up and scored the final eight points on a Jefferson hook, two Millsap dunks a pair of Hayward freebies.21 comments on this story
Tinsley also made a clutch steal from Portland guard Raymond Felton with 26.9 seconds remaining, denying the Blazers a chance to go ahead and then finding Millsap under the bucket for a huge dunk.
"It's a huge satisfaction for us just to get a road win," said Corbin, whose team improved to 9-19 away from Utah. "It's a huge win for us. We're struggling a little bit, but we need to win."