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Kragthorpe: Jazz discover their defense just in time
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the final, frantic seconds Monday night, Denver guard Ty Lawson drove into the lane and fired a crisp pass to wide-open teammate Corey Brewer.

At this time, the Jazz would like to thank Lawson for his wonderful example of unselfishness.

In the worst decision made at EnergySolutions Arena since last March when Miami's LeBron James passed the ball to Udonis Haslem (who missed a last-second shot), Lawson allowed the clock to expire long before Brewer could launch a tying attempt from the right wing.

The sequence that began when the Nuggets in-bounded the ball with 3.6 seconds remaining preserved the Jazz's 105-103 victory, and nothing could have served as a better illustration of this bizarre game.

Ultimately, the Jazz won because they stopped impersonating the Washington Generals.

They stood around in the first half as if they were playing along with a Harlem Globetrotters script, giving up 10 dunks and seven layups. Their defensive effort? Simply offensive. If someone looked at the halftime box score and figured, wow, the Nuggets must have been really hot because they shot 73 percent from the field, that would have been a mistaken conclusion.

Denver scored 65 points, while making exactly one 3-pointer and only a few jump shots.

In case you're wondering, Jerry Sloan witnessed all of it, with no apparent side effects. The former Jazz coach and professed lover of defense watched impassively from the 11th row as his old team was exposed in ways he never would have tolerated.

Somehow, the Jazz figured it out.

They usually do, around here. On the road, the Jazz probably would have lost by 20 points, just as they did in Denver in early November.

Their 2-7 road record — with another three-game trip beginning Wednesday at New Orleans — makes their 6-0 home mark a necessity, not a luxury.

Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said of his team's soft defense, "That's not who we are, so we wanted to make sure that we understood that we needed to pick it up in the second half."

Spurred by that dunkfest, Denver led 77-65 midway through the third quarter before the Jazz responded with 14 straight points. Even after Andre Iguodala, the Nuggets' leading scorer, was ejected with two technical fouls during that run, this was a fight to the finish.

Denver coach George Karl knew what to expect coming in, even if the Jazz hardly resembled an intimidating home team in the first half.

"It's a tough place to play," Karl said before the game. "The fans are into the game, they're pretty intense, the volume in the building's pretty high and [the Jazz] seem to get a friendly whistle on a lot of nights."

This actually was not one of those nights, as a series of strange calls affected both teams about evenly. None of them came at the very end, allowing the issue to be settled by Denver's last two empty possessions.

Wearing their alternate (green) road uniforms, the Jazz almost gave this game away via Jamaal Tinsley's errant pass when they held a one-point lead. Yet after giving up all those dunks and layups, they succeeded in luring former University of Utah star Andre Miller into a 3-point try. Miller missed from the left angle, then the Jazz's Derrick Favors made one free throw and missed the other.

That gave the Nuggets one last shot, which Lawson kindly chose not to take — thanks in large part to the defense of DeMarre Carroll.

So the Jazz escaped, as they have a habit of doing here. Out there, somewhere, you just know this would have ended differently.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

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