SALT LAKE CITY — When it came to offensive output, the first and fourth quarters of Monday night's Jazz-Knicks game could easily be described as being polar opposites of each other.
It was quite evident when the offenses headed south.
After combining for 74 points in the first quarter, Utah and New York scored all of 27 points in the final 12 minutes.
The final score of 103-98 ended up in the Jazz's favor.
But the pivotal and final fourth quarter total almost looked like a rec-league scoreboard: Jazz 16, Knicks 11.
That was a remarkable finish compared to the offensive flurry of a first quarter, which saw the Jazz take a 44-30 lead after the fast-paced, nets-sizzling opening 12 minutes.
Jerry Sloan wasn't at all pleased with his team's overall defensive effort, but his players pointed to their defense as being the key to putting the lids on the Knicks' bucket when it counted most.
Though Utah's offense struggled mightily in the fourth, missing 13 of 18 shots, the Knicks were equally pitiful. New York only shot 6-for-21, ultimately dousing any hopes of pulling off an upset that looked possible after it rallied from a 15-point deficit to tie the game heading into the fourth quarter.
"I thought our defense really picked up," Jazz guard Kyle Korver said. "I thought we played pretty physical for the most part. We did what we had to do -- we grinded it out and got the win."
Sloan went with some unusual lineups down the stretch, keeping starters Mehmet Okur and C.J. Miles along with backup guard Ronnie Price in for the entire fourth quarter.
Price had two steals in the fourth, including one that led to his own bucket during a decisive stretch in which the Jazz finally re-built a 10-point lead. Miles also had a blocked shot during a 10-2 run in that key spurt.
"First two quarters they had 30-point quarters," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "Fourth quarter they had 11, so defense did it. Wish we would have had that the first three quarters."
They were relieved their defense came through when it mattered most, though.
"You know the team's going to make a run, especially them," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "They keep shooting the ball and some will go in. We withheld it, the starters came back in and did a great job of closing the game out."
From his viewpoint on the bench the entire fourth, Wesley Matthews could tell the Jazz picked up the defensive intensity.7 comments on this story
Matthews credited his teammates for "playing unselfish defense, rotating, helping, closing out all the way to the shooters, just try to make everything difficult and then finish it by getting the rebound."
That not only saved them from an embarrassing loss, but it also put them in first place in the Northwest Division for the first time this season thanks to Denver's loss in Dallas.
"It just needed to be done," Matthews added of the defensive finish. "They were fighting. We knew they weren't going to go way. We knew they weren't going to give us this game from the start, and it's just playing basketball."