Jazz 109, Clippers 97
Jerry Sloan has survived 23 years as an NBA coach because he knows how to get the most from his players, and provides a system that allows them to succeed.
And when one player goes down, another steps up.
Deron Williams had 26 points and nine assists, and the Jazz got significant contributions from reserves C.J. Miles and Francisco Elson down the stretch to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 109-97 on Sunday for their fifth straight victory. Utah was coming off a 102-96 home win over the NBA champion Lakers in which they rallied from 19 points down.
''In this system with these type of players, you've got to shine,'' Elson said. ''Jerry Sloan is one of the best coaches in the game and he has that winning mentality, so you want to come out and do well. And when he puts you in the game, you've got to perform. Miles was hitting his shots and we were making great plays, passing the ball to each other and finding the open man. When you pass to each other, confidence builds.''
Miles scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter, helping the defending Northwest Division champions win for the 13th time in 16 games after opening the season with one-sided losses to Denver and Phoenix. And they've done it without center Mehmet Okur, who has been sidelined because of a torn Achilles tendon he sustained during the playoffs.
''Our guys have played pretty well together and our bench has given us a tremendous lift to put us in a position to be able to win a lot of those games,'' Sloan said. ''Those guys have given us a great deal of life to fight back, and it's been fun. From C.J.'s standpoint, he was able to make some really tough shots.''
Rookie Blake Griffin had 35 points on 13 for 21 shooting, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out seven assists for the Clippers, who have lost nine of the past 10 meetings with the Jazz. Eric Gordon added 21 points and nine assists.
Griffin, averaging 20.2 points and 11.6 boards through his first 18 games, is off to a strong start in his bid to become the third player in franchise history to earn rookie of the year honors and first since Bob McAdoo and Ernie DeGregorio won the award back-to-back with the Buffalo Braves in 1973 and 1974. The double-double was Griffin's 11th.
''He's very athletic, and this is a league where athleticism is a big deal,'' Elson said. ''People look up to him already because he's so explosive and he has a lot of talent.''
Griffin scored 21 points on 9 for 13 shooting in the first half and the Clippers broke off an 11-0 run late in the second quarter to take a 60-52 lead at the break.
''It seemed like we couldn't stop anybody in the first half,'' Williams said. ''They were hitting shots from everywhere. ... We woke up in the second half, executed better and didn't give up.''
The Jazz opened the third quarter with a 13-2 spurt, capped by a 3-pointer by Raja Bell that put them in front 65-62 with 7:04 left in the quarter. Then their bench went to work. Elson made a fastbreak layup, Miles hit a 3-pointer and Elson converted a three-point play for a 92-78 lead with 7:40 left. The Clippers got no closer than nine points after that.
''They ended up playing good defense, but we stopped ourselves,'' Gordon said. ''I think we had a stretch in the third quarter where we missed three or four layups. They got a few blocked shots where we could have converted and didn't, and that turned into fastbreak points for them. And when a team gets that kind of momentum, it's hard to stop.''
Utah was whistled for three technicals during a 7:10 span of the first half - on Bell, Earl Watson and Ronnie Price. But Williams, Utah's leading scorer this season, escaped technicals on two separate occasions despite animated conversations with officials after the whistle.
''The only guy who should get technicals is the coach,'' Sloan said.
Clippers center Chris Kaman missed his 10th straight game because of a sprained left knee. Point guard Baron Davis tested his sore left knee briefly before the game, but missed his seventh game in a row and 13th in the last 14. Davis played only 10 minutes during a loss at New Orleans on Nov. 9.
Notes: The hiring of Vinny Del Negro in July represented the 13th head coaching change the Clippers have made since Sloan became Utah's coach in December 1988, the most of any team in the league. ... Gordon led the Clippers in scoring in seven of their previous eight games. The only exception was Nov. 20, when his 25-point effort was overshadowed by Griffin's 44 against the New York Knicks. ... Since signing Davis as a free agent before the 2008-09 season, the Clippers are 5-24 when he hasn't played. ... Utah has held 10 of its last 11 opponents under 100 points.