ATLANTA -- Yep, they did it again. The Jazz came back from a double-digit deficit for the fourth straight game, rallying from 11 down in the fourth quarter to beat Atlanta 90-86 and complete an unlikely sweep of the three power teams in the Southeast Division.
They had help, it should be said. Atlanta shot itself in the foot with an 11-of-21 performance from the line, including two misses by Al Horford that could have tied the game with 7.6 seconds left.
Nonetheless, the story of the Jazz's winning streak is that they keep putting themselves in position to take advantage. And while they aren’t going to win every game in which they fall behind by so much -- witness the opening two games, in which they got their doors blown off early and never recovered -- they’ve once again established the never-say-die attitude that has made them among the league’s perennial overachievers.
On this night, the usual suspects again starred -- Deron Williams with 24 points and 10 assists, and Al Jefferson with a couple of big offensive boards late. But the hidden reason Utah survived was the efforts of its maligned second unit while Williams was on the bench.
The Jazz trailed by 11 when Williams checked out with 11:24 left but got a big energy boost from reserves Earl Watson and Jeremy Evans to hang close enough that the starters could pull it out. By the time Williams returned with 6:33 to go, the game was tied.
“I was real impressed with the guys off the bench, because I’ve been real uncertain about who’s going to play and who’s not,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. “I left Andrei [Kirilenko] out there with them and C.J. [Miles], and they kept us in the ballgame. Deron had been out there a long time and I wanted to get him some rest, and those guys executed our offense very well.”
Evans, a bouncy rookie and second-round draft pick who didn’t play in the first half, provided an athletic finisher and matched up better with Atlanta’s quick forwards.
“He hasn’t gotten to play but he hasn’t done anything wrong,” Sloan said. “For a rookie, that’s hard for him to understand but that’s the nature of this business sometimes.”
Watson, meanwhile, had a steal and a blocked shot while playing feisty defense on Atlanta’s Jamal Crawford. And Sloan switched to a zone -- or rather, assistant Phil Johnson did, as Sloan told us without prompting -- that helped befuddle the Hawks in the fourth quarter.
The Jazz are through the hard part now, because after a stop in Charlotte on Saturday, they are heading back to Utah and will play 12 of the following 14 games at home. Thus, the 6-3 Jazz have an opportunity to ride their current streak to several games above .500.
That is, if they can just figure out why they keep falling behind so much.
“We still feel like we haven’t played a good game yet,” Williams said. “A good, full game, where everybody is clicking. We still can improve a lot, so that’s a good thing.”
But the Jazz can feel good about battling through the struggles of the first week and emerging from a tough road trip much stronger and more together. Sloan felt so good about it, in fact, that he couldn’t restrain himself from a classic Sloan-ism.
“Even when we had a little trouble to start the season,” Sloan said, “at least they stayed together and worked themselves out of it. That’s the only way you have a chance. If you get [in] an ice pick fight out in the parking lot, then you have to try to solve that problem.”
Don’t worry -- ice pick fights in the parking lot haven’t been an issue for the Jazz this season. And neither, apparently, is coming back from large deficits.