In between a fantastic start and strong finish, the Utah Jazz played two sloppy quarters that nearly cost them their longest winning streak of the season.
The Jazz managed to avoid blowing a 19-point lead, letting it slip only to four before holding off the Indiana Pacers 96-87 on Friday night.
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“During the second half it looked like we thought the game was going to be easy but they came right back and played hard and we had to grind it out,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “These are the kinds of games you don’t always win.”
Carlos Boozer led the Jazz with a season-high 35 points, including nine of Utah’s 17 points in the fourth quarter. The Jazz had to overcome 10 turnovers in the second half and foul trouble that hampered point guards Deron Williams and Eric Maynor much of the game.
Utah also had several long scoring droughts that allowed the Pacers to keep it close even after the Jazz’s 22-3 run to start the game.
“We’re winning right now and that’s the most important thing,” said Boozer, who also pulled down 13 rebounds and has 12 double-doubles in 18 games this season.
Williams finished with 13 assists and 11 points, and rookie Wesley Matthews added 18 points, setting a season high for the second straight game.
“Forget that – we won,” said Matthews, who topped the 17 points he scored Monday in a win over Memphis. “We started out and jumped on them in the first quarter and then we kind of backed off a bit. You can’t do that.”
Danny Granger led Indiana with 26 points. Troy Murphy had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Pacers, who never quite recovered after opening the game 4 for 16 from the floor and scoring just 14 in the first quarter.
“You’re not going to win many games getting out to a start like that,” Murphy said.
Indiana managed to keep it close by making 8 of 27 3-pointers, but the Pacers hurt themselves throughout the night at the foul line, where they went 25 for 34.
“Our guys played with a tremendous amount of force when they got down,” coach Jim O’Brien said. “They competed and they put themselves in position to win, but we missed way too many foul shots.”
Indiana fell to 0-3 on a four-game trip, which ends Saturday at the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Jazz hadn’t played since Monday and were sluggish in between the quick start and the rally that put away the Pacers late in the fourth quarter.
Utah didn’t score in the fourth quarter until Boozer’s three-point play put the Jazz ahead 82-72 with 9:18 to go, but Granger and Brandon Rush answered for the Pacers with back-to-back 3-pointers. Rush’s shot with 8:36 left in the game cut it to 82-78, the closest the game had been since early in the first quarter.
But that was as close as it would get. Boozer got inside again for a layup with 6:02 remaining to start a 6-2 run that gave Utah a big enough cushion to hold.
Paul Millsap added 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Jazz, who went 5-1 on a six-game homestand. Friday’s win could have easily been a blowout, but instead ended up being close enough at the end that Utah’s starters were still on the floor with a long flight to Minnesota for a game Saturday still to go.
“We knew they were going to make a run and we knew they were going to get out and push the ball and shoot themselves back into the game,” Millsap said. “When they do that, you have to stand strong.”
After the disastrous first quarter, the Pacers were 9-of-14 in the second and outscored the Jazz 30-25. It would have been worse, but Matthews scored on a three-point play with 37 seconds left in the half, then just beat the shot clock on a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining to give Utah a 57-44 halftime lead.
NOTES: The Jazz wore throwback green uniforms, the same design the team had when it moved from New Orleans to Utah 30 years ago. … Matthews was coming off career bests for points with 17 on Monday in a win over Memphis. … Boozer’s previous season high was 28 points against Chicago on Thanksgiving. … The Pacers have lost four straight to the Jazz. … Utah shooting guard C.J. Miles made his season debut after missing two months with a torn thumb ligament. He went scoreless in 12:44.