Luhm: Jazz need Great Escape to beat Celtics
After Butler beat Murray State and punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament's West Regional in Salt Lake City, Bulldog coach Brad Stevens shook his head and wondered aloud how his team had survived.
Jerry Sloan likely felt the same way Monday night, after his team extricated itself from a miserable first half and defeated Boston, 110-97.
Yes, C.J. Miles scored.
Yes, Deron Williams looked like he could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.
Yes, the aging Celtics are no longer close to being the best team in the Eastern Conference.
But the Jazz should have been knocked out during a foul-plagued, turnover-infested first half.
Instead, they made a Great Escape, dominated the second half and overpowered Boston for one of their most significant wins of the season.
How cumbersome was Utah's early foul trouble?
Kosta Koufos, just back from a the NBA Development League, matched his season high with 13 minutes.
In the first half .
Koufos, who played 86 minutes in Utah's first 70 games and only 11 minutes since Jan. 25, helped hold the munchkin-sized Jazz in the game against Kevin Garnett & Co.
"I thought Kosta gave us a little lift," Sloan said.
Shaking his head, just like Stevens did a few days ago in San Jose, Sloan continued, "I didn't know what we were going to do if we kept getting our big guys in foul trouble. I kept running them in and out, trying to save them. But ..."
Carlos Boozer played 9:48 in the first half, thanks to three fouls.
Paul Millsap played 12:11, before picking up his third foul.
Koufos and Okur finished the half with five fouls between them.
During a timeout, the Jazz introduced a 99-year-old season-ticket holder to the sellout crowd.
At that point, Sloan probably considered putting him into the game.
"We should have been down by more," Boozer said. "But we were only down by five. So we came out in the second half and actually felt like we had the momentum."
Koufos' contribution cannot be overstated.
He helped Sloan buy some time and finished his vital first-half performance with four points and three rebounds.
His numbers could have been better, too, except a questionable offensive goaltending call wiped out another basket.
Only a couple of days ago, Koufos was playing in Reno for the Utah Flash.
Against the Celtics, he helped the Jazz survive what was probably their worst foul trouble of the season, considering Andrei Kirilenko was injured and Kyrylo Fesenko was ill.
"It's good to be back," Koufos said.
The Jazz can say the same thing.
On a night when the Celtics had every opportunity to beat them but couldn't, Utah is back.
In a matter of hours, the Jazz sharply improved their position in the glove-tight Western Conference playoff race.
Oklahoma City lost.
Suddenly, the Jazz can look ahead with anticipation, since none of their next five opponents is over .500.
With the playoffs only 31/2 weeks away, Utah seems capable of continuing to climb the ladder, especially if the Jazz play like they did in the second half against Boston.
"It was a great win for us," Sloan said, "because I thought everybody on our team was dedicated to winning the game and playing together.
"Whatever had to be done, whoever did it did it. There was no, like, 'I have to do it all by myself.'"