Auburn Hills, Mich. • They bobbled and bumbled, like the night before. They missed free throws, like the night before. By their own admission, they relaxed. Just like the night before.
The salient difference for the Utah Jazz was that, this time, they only choked most of their lead away.
One night after blowing a 15-point lead in a loss at Atlanta, they nearly did it again. But where there wasn’t fight on Friday, there was just enough on Saturday. After falling behind by 15 in the second quarter, the Jazz charged ahead, then held on for a 90-87 victory over the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
“I’m happy about the win,” center Al Jefferson said, “but I still think we ain’t closing the game out the way we supposed to.”
Paul Millsap split free throws with 4.1 seconds remaining to give the Jazz a 3-point lead, but was acquitted when Brandon Knight’s well-defended 3-pointer at the buzzer — credit an uncalled bump by DeMarre Carroll, there — fell well short.
Jefferson led the Jazz (20-19) with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and keyed a furious third-quarter rally in which the Jazz outscored the Pistons 25-11. The momentum was carried into the fourth quarter by the second unit, led by Alec Burks, who finished with 12 points. But after a highlight-reel dunk by Burks with 3:18 left, the Pistons closed the game on a 12-2 run and held the Jazz without a field goal.
“We’ve got to be able to close out games,” Gordon Hayward said. “We almost lost it.”
Following Burks’ dunk, the Jazz’s final possessions played out this way: miss, turnover, turnover, miss, split free throws, miss, offensive foul, turnover, split free throws.
Meanwhile, the Pistons played like a real-life version of NBA 2K13 — imagine a gamer repeatedly mashing the “X” button — forcing loose balls and generally wreaking havoc. Will Bynum, who Randy Foye called “a real strong guy who puts his hands on you, grabs you,” scored eight of his 13 points in the final two minutes.
All that aside, the Jazz, for the record — which happens to be back above .500 — did not lose it, as Hayward feared. Their composure? Certainly a little. Their momentum? All of it. But the thing that mattered as they boarded a late-night jet bound for Salt Lake? They had that, neatly packaged as a key part of what boils down to an acceptable 2-1 road trip, with the defending champion Miami Heat coming to town on Monday.
“This team has shown a lot of resilience all year,” coach Tyrone Corbin said. “We’re a proud group, if we don’t play our best basketball we want to come back the next night.”
It didn’t look like it from the beginning, though. The Pistons led 39-24 midway through the second quarter and outshot the Jazz 56.3 percent to 43.2 percent to take a 50-39 lead into halftime.
The Jazz seemed to be headed for the kind of letdown performance that often plagues teams throughout the league following emotional games. And make no mistake, Friday’s loss weighed heavily on the Jazz. Even after a cleansing performance, Jefferson said he still had “a bitter taste in my mouth” from Atlanta.
“No one even spoke until game time,” Foye said. “Everybody still had that sick feeling in their stomach like we gave the game away last night.”
Can you imagine how much Theraflu the Jazz would have required if they did it again?
Cancel the order at Walgreen’s, these guys won’t be needing it.
Storylines Jazz 90, Pistons 87
R The Jazz overcome a 15-point deficit but nearly blow their own 13-point, fourth-quarter lead.
• Al Jefferson leads the Jazz with 20 points and 10 rebounds.