Then Dirk Nowitzki returned to the court.
Eyeing the rim, effortlessly releasing and following through with his trademark feather touch, the Dallas forward scored 10 points during the fourth, finishing with a season- and game-high 40 on 14-of-21 shooting in Dallas' 102-96 victory at American Airlines Center.
Jazz-Mavs box score: http://bit.ly/yTQLZ1
"You see what that level of guy does for a team and a franchise. They make shots and they make timely shots," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Paul Millsap poured in a team-high 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting, grabbed six rebounds and collected four steals for Utah (17-19), which outscored the Mavericks 52-24 in the paint and 24-12 in second-chance points, but ultimately had no answer for the 2011 NBA Finals MVP.
Nowitzki scored 24 points during the second and third quarters combined, drilling 9 of 13 shots while Dallas (22-16) used a 27-10 run that bridged the third with the fourth to bury the Jazz.
It was the second consecutive night Utah which fell to 3-13 on the road - watched one of the league's premier players fire and connect at will. Nowitzki sank turnarounds, long-range 3s and fadeways. He drove, spotted up and hit close-range bank shots. And when he buried a one-legged, spinning 3 few, if any, athletes in the NBA could make, the message was clear: The Jazz could have their late-game run, but the victory belonged to the game-changer.
Millsap said he was helpless, acknowledging the only thing he could have done more was to send Nowitzki to the foul line every time he touched the ball.
To Utah center Al Jefferson, one of the best shooters in the history of the game was simply in the zone.
"He didn't miss," Jefferson said. "Like that [one-legged 3]: he just didn't miss."
Nowitzki said it was all about rhythm. He entered the contest struggling with his mid-range touch. He walked off the hardwood in near playoff form.
"I just wanted to be aggressive. And my teammates kept feeding me, and that was great," said Nowitzki, who ensured Dallas' four-game losing streak came to an end.
Utah used the 7-footer's absence as an entryway. Following Watson's lead, young reserves Alec Burks and Derrick Favors unleashed a full-court attack, sucking up loose balls and trading them for transition points. Favors finished with 14 points, five rebounds - four offensive - and three steals. Burks continued to play fearless ball, aggressively bodying up against the Mavs and refusing to back down.
The Jazz's fiery fourth-quarter fight was captured by Burks. Speeding down the court for another fast-break layup, the 20-year-old rookie guard ran straight into Mavericks center Brendan Haywood. It was the No. 12 overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft - all 6-foot-6, 202 pounds of him - versus a 32-year-old veteran carrying a 7-foot, 263-pound frame.
Haywood stuck out his chest and pushed out his arms, sending a message with a tough foul. Burks hit the hardwood, picked himself up and was dusted off by Millsap. Then the ever-improving Jazz guard sank two free throws, got his head back in the game and continued racing along the court.
Dallas was about to cement the win. Nowitzki had his 40. But Burks? He wasn't going anywhere.
"I ain't soft. I ain't no punk. I ain't going to let nobody try to outhustle me or out-tough me," Burks said. "I'm from Kansas City. I'm not scared of nobody."
Neither are the Jazz.
Corbin and Jefferson spent key portions of their postgame interviews saying they could live with the loss because of Utah's strong fourth-quarter surge, since it set up a five-game road trip and proved once again the Jazz are tighter than ever after 36 games.
"With all the bad stuff that happened [Saturday], we still put ourselves in a position to win the game. ... That's all you can ask for," Jefferson said.
Storylines Mavericks 102, Jazz 96
R In short • The Jazz look worn out, make a late stand, but eventually fall to Dallas.
Key stat • Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki scores 24 of Dallas' 33 points during a game-changing run.
Key moment • The Mavs use a 10-0 early third-quarter blitz to put Utah in a deep hole.