SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz found a way to stay together despite starting the season with 14 losses in 15 games.
That cohesiveness is finally paying dividends.
"We’ve stuck with it. We’ve learned how to play as a team and we’ve stayed together. We have confidence that the next player is going to make a play," said Derrick Favors, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds to help the Utah Jazz hold off the Milwaukee Bucks 96-87 Thursday night
Gordon Hayward scored 22 points and the Jazz claimed consecutive wins for just the third time this season.
Hayward, Utah’s leading scorer, had failed to reach double-figures in the previous two games but was efficient from the start against the Bucks with 18 in the first half.
Favors took his turn as the center of the improving Jazz offense at crunch time with seven points in the final 2:02 to clinch the game.
"Early in the season I was trying to do too much and going too fast," Favors said. "The coaches and other players have told me to slow down and when I’m open shoot it. And when I can create something, do it."
The Jazz made all 17 free throw attempts and outrebounded the Bucks 43-34 in the matchup of teams with the worst records in each conference. But the Jazz are as healthy as they have been all season and improving in a season they deemed as a development campaign last summer.
"We’re getting better each and every game. We’re still learning to play together. The chemistry is coming along," said rookie Trey Burke, who had 11 points as one of six Jazz players with at least 10 points.
Larry Sanders went 7 of 7 on field goals to lead Milwaukee with 16 points, his best output since missing 25 games with a thumb injury.
"I’m getting more comfortable out there. I need a little better timing defensively. I feel like I didn’t guard the rim as well as I should have," Sanders said.
Luke Ridnour had 12 points and Gary Neal finished with 11, but the Bucks dropped their 12th straight game in Salt Lake City.
The Jazz were clinging to a 76-71 lead when Marvin Williams tipped a loose ball to Alec Burks that he turned into a layup. The Jazz stole it again on the next possession and Williams found Burks in the corner for a 3-pointer, widening the gap to 10 again.
"They withstood everything we threw at them," Sanders said.
Sanders scored on a spin move to cut the lead to 83-80, but Burks hit a running hook, Burke hit a long jumper and Favors dunked with 2:02 remaining to give Utah some breathing room.
"We could not get over the hump. We got it down to three and then came out with two turnovers. One turnover was in transition and two of our guys ran into each other," said Milwaukee coach Larry Drew, exasperated at the Bucks’ miscues.
Playing without forward John Henson, who has a left ankle sprain, the Bucks were outmuscled in the paint and ran out of gas after their last surge in the fourth quarter.
Diante Garrett, who joined the Jazz in mid-November, seemed to be auditioning to keep his job. The point guard played 20 minutes — the most in a competitive contest since his initial game with the Jazz — and scored 10 points, a career high. All contracts become guaranteed for the rest of the year on Jan. 10.
"It was a dream getting to the NBA and now I got to stay here. I want to do everything I can to have a long-term career," said Garrett, who played 19 games with Phoenix last season.
The Bucks’ three-game Western Conference road trip got off to a promising start with a 94-79 win over the Lakers in Los Angeles on Tuesday. But the Bucks couldn’t keep the Jazz off the boards or get critical stops down the stretch against the Jazz.
"You have to match their energy. You have to match their intensity. You have to match their physicality. We didn’t do that tonight," Drew said.