Ben Brewer, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — What started out as John Stockton Day ended up as Mo Williams Night in Utah.
It didn't have the significance of the infamous "Uh, oh" moment in Houston when Stockton hit a 3-pointer to put the Utah Jazz into the NBA Finals for the first time back in 1997, but Williams drained a long ball at the buzzer in the waning moments of 12/12/12.
The Stockton-like swish put 18,710 fans into a thrilled frenzy.
It made for an easy "SportsCenter" highlight on the late-night ESPN-televised game.
And the 26-foot bomb gave the Jazz their most significant win of the 2012-'13 season — a thrilling 99-96 come-from-behind-and-ahead-and-behind-again victory over the San Antonio Spurs.
"It's great — not only for him but for everybody," an elated Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "This team is working extremely hard to get better and we're showing some growth together as a group. And it's great to get a reward like this tonight."
Williams' shot more than made up for his miss only seconds earlier and also helped the Jazz erase the Spurs' eight-point lead with under four minutes to go.
"I think we all knew he was going to take it after he missed that (previous) one," Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward said. "He was going to step up and shoot it with confidence. We had faith in him and he knocked it down."
That gave the Jazz their fourth victory in a row and helped them make up for their 110-100 loss in San Antonio earlier this season, giving Utah only its second win in 13 tries against the ageless Spurs.
Williams' heroic moment wouldn't have been possible without the rebound of the year by Paul Millsap. The 6-foot-8 forward, who had a game-high 24 points with 12 boards, hauled in a miss by Williams with 8.3 seconds remaining, giving the Jazz the ball and one last shot after calling a timeout with 6.7 seconds left.
"We wanted the last shot," Corbin said. "We wanted Mo to have the ball in his hands."
The Jazz hoped to create an inside look with a pick-and-roll, but Williams kept the ball well beyond the 3-point line as time dwindled down.
With just enough time to unleash a long game-winning attempt, Williams coolly dribbled forward, stopped behind the arc and released a perfectly placed shot.
"My look was watching the clock and watching Mo and watching the clock and watching Mo and then watched that ball go through the basket as the clock went off," Corbin said, smiling. "Watching him run down the floor with his hands in the air was just tremendous, man."
It put a sweet finish on an otherwise forgettable night for Williams, who only made 3-of-9 shots and scored eight points. In fact, he didn't re-enter the game until 4:50 remained in the fourth quarter — a move by Corbin that so happened to coincide with the Jazz dominating the Spurs down the stretch.
"It showed how much my teammates believe in me, showed how much the coaches believe in me," Williams said. "It was a tough night shooting for me, missed a couple shots down the stretch that I felt good about. They came back to me and it shows how much confidence they have in me."
Somewhere, a certain Hall of Famer had to be smiling — if, that is, Stockton stayed up that late to watch the game that didn't end until about 11 p.m MST.
"He felt he should've made the one just before. Paul did a great job of getting the offensive rebound to give us a chance to win the game," Corbin added. "He's a big-shot guy."
Things started Wednesday as you would expect, considering the Spurs had beaten the Jazz 11 of 12 times coming into this showdown.
The Spurs took an early 10-point lead thanks in large part to the play of Tim Duncan, who finished with 22 points and 21 rebounds.
Hayward (19 points, six assists) gave the Jazz another boost off the bench late in the first quarter and into the second, as Utah stormed into the locker room ahead 53-44 at halftime.
San Antonio's subs sparked a momentum shift after Patty Mills drained a 3-pointer and Tiago Splitter dunked to tie it late in the third quarter. The Spurs continued that surge, eventually going up 93-85 on a Boris Diaw trey with 4:09 left.
Corbin said his message to the Jazz at that time was, "Keep fighting. Keep fighting. It’s a long ballgame — a lot of time left in the game. We've got to keep fighting."
That's precisely what the Jazz did.
Beginning with a Hayward 3, the Jazz outscored the Spurs by 11 points in the final 3:48.
"This is a tough club. This is what we've worked for and these are the moments you have to grow in," Corbin said. "It's a great, great job on the defensive end just making them work hard for everything they got.
"We pushed the ball down and got some opportunities at the basket and got some transition baskets there at the end," Corbin continued. "We really did a good job of executing down the stretch on the offensive end."
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was quite irritated after the loss, which dropped the previous NBA-leading Spurs to 18-5 overall and 11-3 on the road. The Jazz improved to 13-10 and 9-1 at ESA.
"That's a huge defensive error. What do you think a guy is going to do with two seconds on the clock? You make him drive," Popovich said. "You don't step back on Mo Williams. That's why he (Danny Green) was on him, so we didn't have a small guy like Tony (Parker). We put a big guy on him for that one reason, to get up into him and he backed off. Huge defensive error that cost us the game."
On Mo Williams Night in Utah, the Jazz will gladly take it.
NOTES: Derrick Favors returned from his five-game absence from plantar fasciitis. He played 12 minutes, scoring six points with two rebounds. The Spurs had won five games in a row. Utah improved to 3-0 when Al Jefferson and Millsap each score 20 points in the same game. Big Al had 21 points, including a sweet steal-and-slam in the final two minutes.
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