They weren't better than the Boston Celtics when they met eight games into their season back in November, but the Jazz just might have eclipsed one of the NBA's championship favorites with the playoffs just 31/2 weeks away.
Much like their season as a whole, the Jazz were better in the second half than the first half Monday night, erasing the Celtics' 12-point lead and taking a 110-97 victory that left coach Jerry Sloan saying simply, "They played like a team should play."
The Jazz scored the last seven points going into halftime and the first nine points coming back from the break. They took off from there, snapping Boston's four-game winning streak and closing within a half-game of No. 3 Dallas, which lost to New Orleans.
"We came out like a bullet out of a gun," Carlos Boozer said of the Jazz's second-half surge, adding, "I hope everybody in this locker room had fun tonight because we played against a championship-caliber team and beat them."
Deron Williams made just 5 of 14 shots but forced the issue against Rajon Rondo and Nate Robinson, earning trip after trip to the foul line. Williams converted all 11 of his free throws and totaled 22 points and 11 assists. Rondo had six points and six assists.
C.J. Miles led with 23 points -- compared to 26 combined for Boston's Ray Allen and Paul Pierce -- Mehmet Okur finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds while hitting four second-half three-pointers and Carlos Boozer had 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.
"We're just proud of the way we played and the way we responded in that second half," Williams said. "It says a lot about our character and I thought we matched their toughness.
"They're a team that tries to come out and intimidate you and be physical and I thought we were physical right back with them."
The Celtics have been a measuring stick for the Jazz ever since Utah was humbled 105-86 Nov. 11 in Boston. Williams has credited the Celtics with exemplifying the team play that was missing then for the Jazz, who have gone 27-8 since Jan. 9.
As evidence of how far they've come, the Jazz were able to weather a first half Monday in which Boozer spent the final 10:34 on the bench after picking up his third foul. Okur and Paul Millsap also finished the half with three personals each.
The Jazz turned to Kosta Koufos, recalled from the D-League's Utah Flash earlier in the day, for 13 minutes. They trailed 54-42 with 2:02 left in the half after Rondo stole Wesley Matthews' pass to Williams and Allen stroked a three-pointer in transition.
With a 7-0 run, though, the Jazz were able to recover. Williams pushed ahead trying to play the two-for-one possession game, drew a third foul on Rondo and went to the foul line. Miles drove for a layup with 7.4 seconds left to make it 54-49.
"I think just the way we ended the second quarter gave us a little bit of confidence," Williams said, "and it kind of carried over into that second half."
The Jazz took the lead for good with a 9-0 run to open the second half.
After going 0-for-6 from three-point range in the first half, the Jazz hit five in the third quarter. Okur had three of them as part of an 11-point, seven-rebound, two-block effort coming back from being sick.
Boozer delivered the exclamation point to the Jazz's seventh consecutive win at EnergySolutions Arena, jumping out to block Allen's three-pointer in the fourth quarter, then heading the other way for a thunderous dunk that made it 95-81 with 6:43 left.
"I knew he was going to shoot it," Boozer said, "I just ran over there to him and put a hand up and next thing I knew the ball was in my hand."
The Celtics made just 8 of 23 shots in the third quarter, which they lost 33-19. Boston coach Doc Rivers was ejected with 1:11 remaining in the game. Glen Davis was the Celtics' most effective player with 13 points. On the other side, Sloan couldn't have been happier.
"I thought it was one of our best team games we've had in a long time," Sloan said. "It didn't make any difference who did what. It's a matter of do the job and go win the game and I thought we did that."
IN SHORT » The Jazz stormed back from 12 points down late in the second quarter to pass one of their last tests left before the playoffs
KEY MOMENT » The Jazz scored seven unanswered points to close the first half and take a manageable five-point deficit into the locker room.
KEY STAT » Deron Williams totaled 22 points and 11 assists to Rajon Rondo's six points and six assists.