PORTLAND, Ore. — The Utah Jazz started the game with new jerseys. They started the second half with a new starting lineup.
And they finished a road game with a new resolve.
That all added up to a new result.
For the first time since Feb. 13 in Minnesota, the Jazz clutched it up when it counted for a win away from EnergySolutions Arena.
With a dominating finish, the Jazz turned a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit into an impressive 105-95 victory Friday over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden.
"There's still a long way to go, but it's great for this group of guys," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "It shows their grit and desire and the character they've shown to continue to fight and give themselves a chance."
While outplaying Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard, Mo Williams scored 14 of his game-high 28 points in the final five minutes to lift the Jazz to their third consecutive overall win.
Millsap added eight of his 25 points during the Jazz's game-changing — and perhaps season-saving — 23-4 run in crunch time to help Utah end a nine-game road losing streak.
Oh by the way, another new look for the Jazz?
They're no longer on the outside looking in on the Western Conference playoffs.
Utah improved to 37-36 to catch the idle Los Angeles Lakers for the eighth and final postseason spot out West. The Jazz own the tiebreaker against the Lakers thanks to their 2-1 season-series edge.
"It's a huge win for us on the road tonight," Corbin said. "I don't care who we're playing. We needed to get a road win and they did a great job of fighting back in that second half to have a chance to win that game."
Nine games still remain in the season, so this wasn't necessarily a must-win game.
But the Jazz played like it was — in a good way — after falling behind 89-80 with 6:43 remaining.
Millsap, who also had 10 rebounds, scored with 5:48 to go to end a 10-0 spurt by a Portland team that was playing without All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
That seemed to spark something in a desperate squad that tried multiple different things to reverse its fortunes after a month and a half of road futility.
Before the game, trainer Brian Zettler decided to ditch the Jazz's old road uniforms in hopes of changing their luck with new jerseys.
Then at halftime, Corbin decided to alter his starting lineup for the third quarter — inserting Derrick Favors (13 points, 10 rebounds) in the power forward spot instead of foul-plagued Millsap.
"We wanted to buy some minutes for Paul and we wanted to make sure we came out with aggressiveness on the defensive end," Corbin said. "Derrick did a great job for us. He covered a lot of space in there, helped us out at the basket. I thought it got us going. The defense was the thing that was the key to the game."
To wit, the Jazz, who shot a sizzling 50 percent from the field for the game, scored 32 points in the third and 31 in the final period. At the same time, they held Lillard and crew to just 43 total points in the second half. Corbin was especially pleased that Portland was held scoreless on seven straight possessions while the Jazz went on a 13-0 spurt.
The former Weber State star finished with 24 points, but Williams had his way when it counted the most.
Williams also made a nice assist on a go-ahead-for-good three-point play by Randy Foye, who began the fast break with a steal on the other end. Foye made a layup and free throw to give the Jazz, who went scoreless for four minutes earlier in the fourth, a 93-92 lead with 2:57 remaining.
Williams then hit consecutive inside baskets followed by four Millsap points to put the Jazz safely ahead 101-92 with 41.9 seconds remaining. That was just three minutes after ex-Jazz guard Wesley Matthews' bucket gave Portland a 92-86 lead at the 3:49 mark.
"He got it going," Jefferson said.
"Great for him," Corbin said. "I thought he did a great job in the second half."
On both sides, the coach added.
Not only did Williams capitalize on Portland's pick-and-roll defense, but he also pushed Lillard away from his preferred spots and helped cause the Blazers to be off of their offensive game.
Jefferson also had a whale of a game, scoring 16 of his 22 points in the first half to help keep the Blazers' early lead down to 10.
Portland went up by 14 to begin the third quarter against Utah's slightly new lineup, but the Jazz used a 24-8 surge to take a brief lead before the helter-skelter fourth quarter.
That big finish had a lasting effect on the locker room mood.
For a rare change, smiles, laughter and jokes replaced somberness and dour demeanors in the visitors' changing place temporarily occupied by Utah.
"Whether we're at home or at the park, we've got to win from here on out. That's the way we're looking at it," Jefferson said. "It's time if we want to make the playoffs, that's what we've got to do."
The Jazz return home to take on Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets tonight at EnergySolutions Arena.
For the first time in weeks, they're in control of their playoff destiny, too.
They win out, and they're in.9 comments on this story
No matter what the Lakers do.
"We're back in it," Corbin said. "We just talked about just staying in the fight."