The Jazz survived their first true test of the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season.
Peaking midway through the second quarter Tuesday, then sucking wind and simply holding on during the fourth period, Utah found just enough life to fight off the Milwaukee Bucks, 85-73, at EnergySolutions Arena before a crowd of 17,756.
The Jazz began the game playing their best basketball of the season. Utah continued the progress it made Monday during a home win against New Orleans, aggressively pushing the ball toward the basket on offense and clogging the lane on defense.
Utah shot 48.6 percent from the floor and outscored Milwaukee 30-18 in the paint during the first half. The Jazz collected 30 rebounds and Derrick Favors set a career-high with five blocks in just two quarters. It was 43-34 Utah at the break, and the Jazz (3-3) displayed rhythm, motion and chemistry previously unseen since their Dec. 27 season debut.
Then the human body took over.
Playing their sixth game in eight nights, Utah quickly became worn down and soon appeared exhausted. Devin Harris and Josh Howard were lost to injuries, Milwaukee (2-3) pulled within 49-46, and the Jazz turned to veteran point guard Jamaal Tinsley - out of the league during 2010-11 - and three players 20 or younger to build a bridge toward the end.
"We felt it. … The toll of so many games and the travel on everybody is showing and it's what everybody's going through," Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said.
The Bucks never made it through. Milwaukee shot just 30.5 percent (29 of 95) from the floor and a sub-zero 9.5 percent (2 of 21) behind the 3-point line, failing multiple times to capitalize on 24 Jazz turnovers and claim victory.
Swaying like a beaten-down boxer but never hitting the mat, the Jazz survived. Lifted up by a combined 15 fourth-quarter points from Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward and Al Jefferson, Utah used a 17-6 run that bridged the third period with the fourth to finally put the Bucks away.
"One thing that I noticed, when it started getting bad on the offensive end we still played really hard on the defensive end," said Jefferson, who scored a season- and game-high 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting, adding 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
"We can't use [the schedule] for an excuse because everybody [has] a tough schedule. It['s] either going to hit 'em early or hit 'em later," Jefferson said. "Everybody has to go through a little stretch like that. We've just got to be ready to play."
The Jazz kids were primed again Tuesday.
Recent NBA Draft lottery picks Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Favors and Hayward combined for 32 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists, with each playing a key role in Utah's survival.
"We're all, what, 20, 21? Gordon's the oldest one: 21," Burks said. "We're all young and we're going to keep running. We're just trying to bring as much energy as possible."
Burks did just that, slashing away as soon as he entered the game. The No. 12 overall pick during 2011 reached the free-throw line a game-high 10 times and dished out six assists, trying to prove to Corbin he deserves minutes on the hardwood.
Meanwhile, Jefferson tipped his hat to Favors, saying the No. 3 pick during 2010 "set the tone." Jefferson acknowledged there's no way his 20-year-old self would've recorded five blocks in an NBA game. Favors did it in two quarters. And after the Jazz gutted out their toughest win of the season, moving to .500 for the first time since March 23, 2011, Favors had a confession: scoring's fine, but he wants to make his real name swatting shots in the lane.
"I take pride in defense," Favors said. "Offense is cool but I take pride in keeping my man from scoring."
The Bucks seldom did Tuesday. And the Jazz survived.
Howard left the game with 1:53 left in the first quarter due to a left quad strain and did not return. He tweaked his quad on a foul and heavily iced it in Utah's locker room. "I'll get in [Wednesday] and see how it reacts," Howard said. … Harris (strained left calf) exited with 6:37 remaining in the third period and did not return. He said the injury wasn't as serious as he thought, but he definitely needed to "get off it and not injure it further." Howard and Harris are day-to-day. … Utah will practice Wednesday, despite Corbin initially saying he'd only hold a film session.
Jazz 85, Bucks 73
R In short • Utah toughs out ugly game, moving to .500 for first time since March 23.
Key stat • Milwaukee shoots just 30.5% (29 of 95) from the floor. The Bucks hit just 9.5 percent (2 of 21) of their shots from behind the 3-point line.
Key moment • Utah used a 17-6 run that bridged the third period with the fourth to finally put the Bucks away.