Utah Jazz: Much-improved effort leads to bounce-back win over New Orleans
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — After their team's massive meltdown at EnergySolutions Arena on Monday, many Utah Jazz fans were probably hoping for a 45-point bounce-back win.
The non-greedy Utah faithful might've even accepted a 25-point loss, which would've been considered a close call compared to the 125-80 drubbing the Jazz suffered against the Houston Rockets two nights earlier.
And the Jazz?
They'll happily settle for the 104-99 victory they eked out against the New Orleans Hornets in front of a sparse and anxious crowd of 17,490 Wednesday night.
"Absolutely. Absolutely," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We got the result we were looking for."
Though it was just a five-point victory over a 15-win Hornets team, it got Utah back on the right track after that devastating detour during which the Jazz suffered their worst-ever home loss and the fifth-largest margin of defeat in franchise history.
"We knew that the next game was going to be tough," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "We started off slow, but we got ourselves going and ended up winning the game, but it feels good."
That was apparent from the vastly improved mood in the arena — where Utah is 16-5 and has won seven of its last eight games.
It was also evident in the locker room. When media entered the Jazz players' dressing area following the game, the vibe was downright chipper.
Injured guard Mo Williams briefly stopped reporters to jokingly hold a press conference announcing that Paul Millsap had joined Twitter.
In his locker, Millsap smiled about that, teased Al Jefferson while also, no doubt, feeling good about his team-leading 25-point, 10-rebound performance.
Big Al and Randy Foye razzed a derby-cap-sporting Enes Kanter for his outfit — a nightly ritual after victories, it seems.
And Jazz players were simply relieved to be answering questions about their 10th win in January instead of about one of the most embarrassing losses in their organization's 39 seasons.
"I thought it was real pretty," said Jefferson of the win after scoring 22 points and grabbing five rebounds. "It's a win, especially compared to Monday night."
Jefferson scored six points in the final four minutes, including a jumper moments after a 14-foot Millsap make with 1:16 remaining. Those back-to-back buckets helped the Jazz get some breathing room after the Hornets whittled Utah's 10-point, second-half lead down to one with just over two minutes remaining.
Randy Foye hit three free throws in the final 18 seconds and Millsap scored the final two of his 19 second-half points from the charity stripe with 7.7 remaining to clinch the much-needed win.
Accused of having no heart by some, the Jazz were determined to show they still have a heartbeat in their chests.
At least they did that after falling behind 24-12 in the first quarter, that is.
"It's tough to let a game like that go. You have to move on and put one foot ahead of the other and keep pushing," Millsap said. "We let it go and we came out tonight. It seemed like it was getting ready to go that way again, but we got it going and won the game."
Corbin repeatedly insisted that Monday's loss only counted as one defeat despite the humongous disparity, but it was obvious that his team carried over some struggles from their previous woeful outing when this one began.
"You know it's a lot of game left, but you want to get it going as soon as you can. You get a little nerve-wracked over there," Corbin said. "But these guys are tremendous character guys — they want it badly. I didn't want to put any more pressure on them to make it happen."
Foye finished with 14 points and eight assists, while Derrick Favors contributed 15 points and six rebounds off the bench.
Those two, Earl Watson (five assists, six rebounds), DeMarre Carroll and Enes Kanter sparked the Jazz on a game-changing 11-3 run in the second quarter as Utah turned things around to take a 51-47 lead into halftime.
In consecutive possessions, Foye hit a 3-pointer, Watson fed Favors with an alley-oop dunk and Carroll slammed in two points after a steal.
Led by Greivis Vasquez's 17-point, 13-assist showing, the Hornets (15-31) overtook the Jazz briefly in the second half and almost rallied out of a double-digit deficit. But that second-quarter stretch put the shaky Jazz back on solid ground for a change.
"I thought Earl did a good job coming in and giving us some energy and pushing the ball up the court," Corbin said. "The guys on the wings did a good job running the floor early and getting in a rhythm. They changed the tempo for us. Everything was clogged inside and waiting on what was going to happen."
This time, Jazz fans left in the fourth quarter and after the final buzzer with smiles on their face, knowing a 50-point turnaround had happened since Monday night.
"This was big for us," Favors said. "We wanted to come in and play and try to get the win."
Many in Utah were just satisfied to see their team try.
NOTES: Neither team had its key Gordon. Jazz sixth man Gordon Hayward missed his second game in a row with a sprained right shoulder, while Hornets standout guard Eric Gordon sat out with sore right knee. The Jazz improved to 5-1 when Millsap and Jefferson both hit the 20-point mark. Utah shot 32 for 46 from the free-throw line, including a season-team-high 16 by Millsap (11-16). Foye went 2 for 6 from beyond the arc. He is the fastest player in Jazz history to hit 100 3-pointers in a season.
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