Jazz: Utah avoids another collapse
As the streamers fell to the floor at the final horn Saturday night, the question could be asked for the first time all season: After beating three title favorites in the span of six days this week, should the Jazz now be considered among the NBA's elite?
They certainly looked the part in bringing the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers' 11-game winning streak to an end with a 102-94 victory at a sold-out EnergySolutions Arena, leading by as many as 17 in the fourth quarter.
Kobe Bryant went 7-for-24 and 1-for-9 from three-point range while battling a fractured finger and upset stomach, yet the Jazz still closed a fearsome week on the schedule 3-1, with victories at home over San Antonio, Orlando and the Lakers.
"I think everyone knew this was our barometer week to see how we were going to do," Carlos Boozer said. "We got a couple guys back, and for us, we feel like we can play with anybody when we play the way we're capable of playing."
The Jazz (14-9) won for the 10th time in 13 games, extending their home winning streak to seven, and gained a measure of revenge against the Lakers, who held them to six points in a fourth-quarter meltdown three nights earlier at Staples Center.
"We weren't happy with the fourth quarter [Wednesday]," Deron Williams said. "We played well through three, but that fourth quarter was embarrassing the way we played. We're definitely happy with how we played today.
"The effort was a lot better, especially in the fourth. The energy was better. You know it helped a little bit that Kobe was under the weather, but we'll take a win against a good team anywhere."
Williams said at the pregame shootaround that a 3-1 week would take the sting out of the start to the Jazz's season and some of the bad losses they suffered early. He wasn't ready, though, to anoint the Jazz as contenders afterward.
"When we go on the road and we beat teams, that's when we can be considered top tier," Williams said.
The Jazz will host Minnesota on Monday before leaving for the start of their annual pre-Christmas trip Wednesday at New Jersey.
Williams led with 21 points and 11 assists, coming back on less than a minute of rest at the start of the fourth quarter. "I was happy coach put me back in so early," said Williams, who scored eight points in the first three minutes of the fourth.
Wesley Matthews scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half while Ronnie Brewer had 15 of his 19 in the second half. Both of the Jazz's young guards outscored Bryant, who had 16 points but went 3-for-11 and 1-for-6 on three-pointers in the fourth.
Williams said Matthews "took it personal" after going 2-for-12 in Wednesday's loss to the Lakers. "That last game, he came and told me that next day, he said, 'I'll never play like that on offense and defense again,'" Williams said.
Bryant suffered an avulsion fracture to the index finger of his right shooting hand in Friday's victory over Minnesota and needed IV fluids before the game and at halftime due to an upset stomach.
"He'd figure out a way to go at it if he had the energy, but I just don't think he had the energy," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. The Lakers went 3-for-21 as a team from three-point range and lost for the first time since Nov. 15.
The Jazz scored 59 points in the first half --- against a Lakers team that ranked first in field-goal percentage defense coming into Saturday - -- and held Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest and the Lakers scoreless for six possessions to start the fourth quarter.
After Jordan Farmar missed a three-pointer, Williams delivered the highlight of the night, pushing the ball up court, crossing over Farmar and swooping in for a layup as part of a three-point play to give the Jazz a 88-71 lead with 9:04 left.
Brewer, meanwhile, showed the growth in his game in the third quarter, hitting two jumpers and a three-pointer as well as driving for a layup and grabbing two offensive rebounds. He shot barely 40 percent against the Lakers in last season's playoffs.
"It was pretty good because I felt like I was shooting the ball without hesitating," Brewer said, adding, "Whenever you play those guys, it's always a heated game, a heated rivalry and it's always good to come away with the win."
In short » The Jazz avenged Wednesday's loss to the Lakers and ended the defending champions' 11-game winning streak.
Key moment » Ronnie Brewer scooped a ball off the floor in the fourth quarter and beat the shot clock with a jumper.
Key stat » Kobe Bryant took 24 shots, including nine three-pointers, yet shot just one free throw for the night.
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