SALT LAKE CITY -- Jerry Sloan has been coaching the Utah Jazz for 20 seasons and has never seen his team play more inspired to start a game.
"Our defense was about as good in the first quarter as I've seen since I've been here. If you can play defense like that the whole time, we'd be pretty good," Sloan said.
Alas, after taking a 16-0 lead, the Jazz squandered the advantage by halftime. But they reversed their trend of weak finishes and beat the Dallas Mavericks 99-90 on Wednesday night.
Carlos Boozer scored 21 points, including six of Utah's last seven. Although he was hampered by foul trouble, Boozer finished strong for the Jazz, who had been struggling in the closing moments of games in the past few weeks.
"It's a big win for us. It feels good to be on the other side. We beat a very good team and held our composure at the end for a change. We executed our plays and finished strong," said Boozer, who shot 8-of-13 and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Jazz to their third win in the last 12 games.
The Jazz led by 10 points in the fourth quarter before Devean George made back-to-back 3-pointers. The Jazz, bolstered by steals by Kirilenko and Ronnie Brewer, then held the Mavericks scoreless for almost 4 minutes.
"We weren't very good from the start but you've got to give our guys credit for battling and coming back," Dallas coach Avery Johnson said.
Dallas stayed close with 3-pointers until Boozer made a mid-range jumper and a dunk that put Utah ahead 97-89 with 1:28 to play.
"We closed out a ballgame for a change," Williams said. "We have always felt like we are one of the better teams in the Western Conference, but we haven't been playing that way. Tonight is a move in the right direction."
Dirk Nowitzki had 20 points for Dallas but made just 3-of-10 from 3-point range as the Mavericks abandoned any attempt at an inside game in the fourth quarter. Devin Harris and Josh Howard each had 17 points for the Mavericks, who had their five-game winning streak snapped.
"We made them take tougher shots farther from the basket. They have great jump shooters but we certainly didn't make it easy for them. We hung our hat on defense tonight," Boozer said.
The Mavericks didn't score until Brandon Bass' jumper 5:12 into the game.
"We got after them. We were playing the passing lanes, getting deflections and making them take tough shots. We struggled on the road and we needed a win so we played with a lot of intensity," Brewer said.
But Dallas whittled away at the lead and actually passed the Jazz just before the end of the first half. Kirilenko's dunk before the buzzer regained the lead for the Jazz, 47-46.
Dallas and Utah seemed to be headed in opposite directions since their last meeting on Dec. 8, when Howard and Williams reached career highs in points. Williams had 41, but Howard scored 47 points and led Dallas to a 125-117 victory. The Mavs were winning and the Jazz became mired in their worst streak of the season.
But this game was much more physical and the Jazz had 12 steals and forced 18 turnovers. Though the Jazz are a higher-scoring team this year at nearly 105 points a game, they win when they play inspired defense. The Jazz improved to 10-0 when holding their opponents under 95 points.
"We played much better defense than we have lately. We talked, we helped each other and we moved quicker," Williams said. "That kind of effort always helps us on the offensive end and we got pretty much any shot we wanted."
The third quarter began much like the first as the Jazz put the Mavericks on their heels.
"We had all the momentum going into halftime and knocked the game down to one. Then in the third, we gave up some shots again and dug ourselves a little too deep," Harris said.
Williams had 12 assists and his adept passes on the pick-and-roll in key moments helped erase Utah's recent faltering finishes. The Jazz outscored the Mavericks in the paint, 44-28.
- Before this game, the Jazz endured the longest stretch between home contests (11 days).
- Utah guard Gordan Giricek was not in the arena and has not been with the team since he was sent home during an on-court argument with Sloan in their game at Charlotte on Dec. 19.
- Mehmet Okur returned to action after missing seven games with a strained left shoulder.
- Brewer dislocated a finger on his left har room for treatment but returned and played in the final period.
- This was the only road contest in an eight-game stretch for Dallas.