SALT LAKE CITY — Their starting point guard wasn't the only thing the Utah Jazz were missing at the beginning of Monday night's game at EnergySolutions Arena.
In a first half so ugly even its mother couldn't love it, the Jazz also missed anything that resembled a solid defensive effort against Denver. Utah was outscored in the paint by 30, watched the Nuggets shoot 73 percent, gave up 65 points and trailed by as many as 16 points in that brutal opening half.
It was so bad for the Jazz, they didn't even have an answer for Kosta Koufos.
Good thing for the Jazz that NBA games have four quarters. In an ultimate irony, it was defense that saved the day and helped Utah somehow pull off a 105-103 victory.
Sure, Denver still hit the century mark in offense, shot 54.8 percent and outrebounded Utah. But the Nuggets, so hot in the first half, were held to 36.1-percent shooting and a meager 38 points in the pivotal second half.
It was so bad for the Nuggets, they couldn’t even get a final shot off in the final 3.6 seconds.
"You give up (65) points in the first half when you're on your home floor to a team that played the night before, nobody was happy about that," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We had to understand that we needed to pick it up."
That was precisely what the Jazz did for most of the second half, and especially so in the final seconds when the quick and dangerous Ty Lawson ended up with the ball in his hands with the game on the line.
Guard Randy Foye shadowed Lawson and then DeMarre Carroll, who played the entire fourth quarter for defensive purposes, stepped in the small guard's way as time ticked away. The 5-10 Lawson passed the ball as the final horn sounded instead of trying to get a shot over the 6-8 Carroll.
"I knew they were going to try and get it to Ty Lawson or (Danilo Gallinari)," Carroll said. "When I saw Ty drive — I've been playing against him all summer — I knew he was going to try and make something happen and go to the goal. I just tried to collapse. He saw me and time ran out."
"They didn't even get a shot off," Jazz guard Earl Watson said, "so it was amazing."
What looked like a sure blowout for the visitors turned "chippy," as Watson described his type of game.
Jamaal Tinsley, Al Jefferson and Corbin received technical fouls for Utah, and Denver finished without star guard Andre Iguodala after he was assessed two quick Ts late in the third quarter. Kenneth Faried also received a T.
"I think both teams wanted to win," Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward said. "We finally got some stops there in that second half, and that's how we were able to turn the game around."
The Jazz also had a strong 28-point performance from Al Jefferson and got three key free throws in the final minute from Derrick Favors, who also missed one to set up the tense finish. Favors finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and two blocks.
But it was the defense of the Jazz that was sparkling and suffocating in the second half, allowing them to keep their perfect home mark (now 6-0) and improve to 8-7 with a three-game road trip later this week.
Corbin went with a defensive-minded lineup in the fourth quarter, with Carroll playing most of the final period along with Hayward, Favors, Jamaal Tinsley and Big Al down the stretch.
"This team is capable of scoring points in a hurry. So once you get them in a place where they're struggling, you want to stay with it," Corbin said. "We just decided to just stay with that group that was in there because they did such a good job on the defensive end."
Still, Denver had chances, but Faried missed free throws and former Ute Andre Miller threw up an errant 3-point bomb with seven seconds remaining as Denver (8-7) saw its four-game winning streak snapped a night after beating New Orleans at home Sunday.
"When the momentum turned, everything was going against us," Denver coach George Karl said, pointing out that Gallinari was sick. "I thought it was a game that we will learn from and learn some courage. To win in this building is a fight. It's a physical and mental fight."
The Jazz came out with a fire in their play in the third quarter and outscored Denver 30-19 in the period thanks to an increased amount of hustle and intensity.
"It shows what we're capable of doing," Corbin said. "We have to make sure we understand we have to be ready for 48 minutes and we can't afford to continue to wait and get down and then turn it on."
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