Just when the jittery Utah Jazz looked perfectly capable of squandering another big lead, they got a needed dose of poised leadership from an unexpected source Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
Rookie Eric Maynor scored 11 of his 15 points during a seven-minute stretch of the fourth quarter and the Jazz escaped with a 104-91 victory over Toronto.
The Raptors narrowed an 18-point deficit to one with 11 minutes to play before Maynor, playing alongside Deron Williams in the backcourt, helped restore order.
His 11 points highlighted a 19-5 explosion by the Jazz, who suddenly seem to have two point guards who are capable of altering the outcome of a game.
Referring to Maynor and Williams, coach Jerry Sloan said, "I like the way they played. They can keep the pressure on a defense. Those two guys have that ability and you have to take advantage of it."
Over the last three games, Maynor averages 17.7 points and seven assists.
Asked if he's making a case for more playing time, Sloan said, "I don't have a problem playing him. I'll play whoever is going to get the job done."
Clearly, confidence is no longer an issue for Maynor.
"Day by day, I'm getting more and more confident," he said, laughing as teammates teased him about the swarm of media around his locker.
"Coach Sloan is gaining more and more confidence in me and my teammates are gaining more and more confidence in me. I'm cool with that."
Fellow rookie Wesley Mathews enjoyed the performance as much as Maynor.
"He stepped up in crucial moments -- that's what we need," Mathews said. "But that's the kind of team we have. We've got go-to guys all over the court and ... [other] guys willing and capable of stepping up in big moments. That's what he did tonight."
Asked about Maynor's growing feeling that he belongs in the NBA, Mathews said, "You have to have it. Otherwise, it's a brutal league. If you don't have confidence in yourself, your opponent is definitely going to take advantage of it. But Eric handled himself like a veteran tonight and we're loving it."
Andrei Kirilenko agreed.
"In the last few games, he proved a lot, which is most important thing," Kirilenko said. "For the young guys in this league, when you don't play, don't play, don't play, you can't really enjoy the game. ...
"But Eric, with Deron being absent for a couple of games, he gained confidence a little bit. And right now, he is just blossoming."
At AT&T Center, San Antonio
Time » Today, 6:30 p.m.
TV » FSN Utah
Radio » 1320 AM, 98.7 FM
Records » Jazz 5-6, San Antonio 4-5.
Last meeting » Jazz, 113-99 (Nov. 5)
Line » Spurs by 8
About the Jazz » The Jazz have lost 20 consecutive regular-season games to the Spurs in San Antonio, plus another three during the 2007 Western Conference finals. Their last win in the city came Feb. 28, 1999, a Midwest Division game at the Alamodome. ... The 113 points scored against the Spurs earlier this month was the Jazz's most during the Tim Duncan era. Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams each had 27 in the game. ... The Jazz are 0-2 in the second game of back-to-back sets this season and 2-4 on the road.
About the Spurs » The Spurs have gotten off to a slow start and were beaten at home by Oklahoma City on Saturday. ... Tim Duncan (left ankle swelling) and Tony Parker (sprained left ankle) both missed two games this month but returned against the Thunder. Duncan had 22 points and 10 rebounds while Parker totaled 17 points and five assists. ... It will be the second game of a back-to-back for the Spurs as well, who lost at Dallas 99-94 in overtime on Wednesday.