The last time the Jazz were two games below .500 and falling apart, Deron Williams chucked a ball at Gordon Hayward and chewed him out on national television.
Nearly five months later, Utah has fallen that far again. But there was a new man of the hour: Al Jefferson.
After watching a two-point lead with 6 minutes, 22 seconds left in a game Saturday night disappear via a nasty 13-0 Dallas Mavericks run, the normally mild-mannered Jefferson had a minor explosion, earning two technical fouls at the 48.5 second mark. The second resulted in an automatic ejection, which was preceded by Big Al slowly walking up to referee Nick Buchert and clapping in his face for several seconds.
Instantly dismissed to Utah's locker room, Jefferson missed the fallout. And the stumbling Jazz dropped their fifth consecutive game, downed 94-77 by a playoff-bound Mavericks team that scored 26 of the contest's final 33 points.
After the loss which saw Utah (36-38) collapse for the fourth time in five games Jefferson continued to tout his team's fighting ability. He swore that an 11th-place Jazz squad that sits 4Â½ games behind eighth-place Memphis and is down a tiebreaker with just eight regular-season contests remaining will not give in, no matter how bad things look.
But Jefferson's teammates acknowledged that he clearly gave in to the temptation of an increasingly frustrating season with his fourth-quarter meltdown, while Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said that he plans to discuss the matter with his starting center.
As for Jefferson, he did not have much to say. Asked two questions by a collection of media members about his ejection, Jefferson refused to answer both. After the second, he became testy.
"Regrets of what?" said Jefferson, who gave two postgame no comments during Utah's previous three games. "I just said I don't want to speak on that, my man. I don't want to speak on that."
Later, Jefferson told a reporter: "I didn't lose control."
The seven-year veteran was willing to address the Jazz's defeat, though. Leading 47-43 at halftime, Utah flatlined during the second half. The Jazz scored just 13 points in the third quarter, 17 in the fourth, and shot only 30.8 percent (12 of 39) from the field during the second half while being outscored 51-30.
The first descriptive word that came out of Jefferson's mouth: frustrating.
"We just made too many mistakes, man. I think we got away from what we was doing," said Jefferson, who was held to 9-of-21 shooting while recording team highs in points (21) and rebounds (seven). "Kind of let other things get us out of our game, instead of staying focused and doing what we was doing the first three quarters."
Dallas (51-21) stayed focused, eventually looking like the third seed in the West after sleepwalking through the first half.
Jason Terry's game-high 22 points topped the Mavericks, who sank 42.1 percent of their 3-point attempts, shot 45.5 percent from the field and 81.3 percent from the free throw line.
"I thought it was a great game," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "You play a team that's desperate and they've been losing close games. They fought and they were physical and they were clawing. â¦ We just kept playing. This is what we need."
The Jazz need a lot. But Utah is not receiving what it requires right now, and hasn't for 2 Â½ months. Starters Devin Harris and Andrei Kirilenko are injured. Rookies are running the court with banged-up veterans. And while coach Tyrone Corbin continues to insist that his players are fighting and making progress, the actions and comments of those involved sometimes say otherwise.
"The fact that the numbers are down doesn't mean anything," Jazz guard Ronnie Price said. "If we're able to play with a team for three quarters, we should be able to finish the game off."