SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—The Utah Jazz’s preseason pledge to improve defensively looked forgotten until late in the third quarter of their home opener.
The Jazz tightened up the defense to trigger a 15-0 run, then held the Los Angeles Clippers to 14 points in the final period of a 111-98 victory on Friday night.
Utah’s home opener was in danger with the Jazz trailing by as much as six before they finally stopped trying to just outscore the Clippers and actually shut them down.
“We didn’t play much defense in the first three quarters of this game, then turned it on in the fourth,” said Deron Williams(notes), who had 21 points and nine assists for the Jazz. “We’ve got to have it for the full 48 minutes. There’s no excuses.”
Scoring was never a problem for the Jazz, but stopping the Clippers certainly was until midway through the second half. Los Angeles went just 3 for 11 from the floor in the final quarter, never recovering after Utah followed a 5-0 run at the end of the third with 10 straight points to start the fourth.
“That’s what we need to see more out of us,” Millsap said. “We’re capable of doing that night in and night out. We need to continue to execute and get stops on the defensive end.”
“I think it was three quarters of good basketball for us,” Kaman said. “The fourth quarter obviously was a struggle. They kind of took it to us.”
The Jazz outrebounded the Clippers 48-35, with Millsap pulling down seven of his nine boards in the second half as Utah overcame a sluggish start in its home opener despite having only 10 available players because of injuries.
“Millsap came in and gave them a big lift in that second half,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. “He really hurt us.”
Utah scored five straight points to pull within 84-83 at the end of the third, then opened the fourth on a 10-0 run. Millsap hit a jumper, then drew a foul on the next possession and made both free throws.
Brewer then took over with a layup, followed by a steal that he took all the way to the other end for a dunk to put the Jazz up 91-84 with 10:23 left in the game.
The Jazz scored the next six after a timeout, then Millsap snuffed a layup attempt by Davis with 3:55 left. He added a jumper in the lane to put Utah up 106-92 with 3:30 to go.
“He scores in bunches,” Williams said. “He’s one of those guys that gets hot and starts feeling it. He did that at the right time tonight.”
The Jazz were handcuffed by fouls in the first half and played soft defense, allowing the Clippers to tie it at 60 on Gordon’s three-point play with a second remaining in the second period.
Utah stayed out of foul trouble early in the third, but the defense wasn’t any better for the first few minutes. Davis took a steal in for a layup, then got another layup off an inbounds play during a 10-4 run that put the Clippers up 80-74 with about three minutes left in the period. Boozer was several feet off with an airball during Utah’s dry spell, which got many boos from the home fans.
The Jazz recovered in the final few minutes of the quarter, drawing within 84-83 on Millsap’s three-point play with 1.2 seconds left.
Notes: Fesenko started for C Mehmet Okur(notes), who sat out the game with a sprained ankle. … The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang a stirring rendition of the national anthem before the game. … The Jazz exercised their third-year option on center Kosta Koufos(notes), their 2008 first-round draft pick. … The Clippers are 1-35 at EnergySolutions Arena, originally known as the Delta Center.