Despite blowing a lead in OT, Jazz say they are making progress.
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Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin didn't get the victory he wanted. But he received almost everything else.
Corbin entered Utah's 90-87 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers saying the game was the Jazz's first real challenge of the 2011-12 season.
Utah winning five consecutive contests and quietly moving into third place in the Western Conference was one thing. But an unproven, rebuilding Jazz team downing Kobe Bryant's Lakers was an entirely different world.
Technically, Utah (6-4) didn't deliver Wednesday at EnergySolutions Arena before a crowd of 19,642. Bryant scored a game-high 40 points, while the Jazz watched a four-point OT lead slip away via miscommunication and poor execution.
But once Corbin took into consideration his team's effort and willpower in addition to how far his young squad has come since training camp started the coach sucked up the loss and offered praise.
"We're coming. We're getting better," Corbin said. "We played against a good team tonight and they were a little bit better than we were. Our effort was great, man. The guys did a great job of hanging in there. … I was proud of my guys."
Paul Millsap scored a team-high 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Jazz, who saw a five-game winning streak come to an end. Utah also suffered its first home defeat of the season.
Jazz reserve forward Josh Howard continued to shine, adding 18 points and drilling a 3-pointer from the left wing that made it 85-81 Jazz with 2 minutes, 57 seconds left in the extra period.
A 7-0 Lakers run followed, though, and Los Angeles (8-4) was carried by five consecutive points from Pau Gasol.
After a 19-foot jump shot by Millsap, Utah pulled within 88-87. A miss by Bryant followed, and the Jazz recovered the ball with 16.5 seconds to go.
Despite possessing a timeout, Utah raced up the floor. Gordon Hayward drove from the right wing to the paint, dishing to Al Jefferson under the basket, whose soft 5-foot shot was stuffed by Andrew Bynum.
Corbin said he considered using a timeout to settle the Jazz. But he made a split-second decision, deciding to catch the Lakers "on their heels."
"Gordon made a good drive. I thought Al got a good shot at the basket there," Corbin said. "One thing is, tit for tat you call [the timeout] and let them set up a defense. I thought we had a chance to get on top of the basket."
While the Jazz played their best game of the season, Bryant controlled the contest from jump ball. Coming off a 48-point outing Tuesday against Phoenix, he scored 21 first-half points, 10 more during the third quarter, and gave the Lakers a 66-61 lead heading into the fourth.
Utah guard Raja Bell, who drew the primary defensive assignment, said he could live with the numbers.
"Scorers in this league, I've always subscribed to this theory: They're going to get their points … you just have to make [them] take a field-goal percentage to your liking," Bell said. "If he's going to take 31 shots to get 40, then that's pretty much all you can do. Anyone shooting 31 shots should score 40."
Like Corbin, Bell said the Jazz are clearly moving in the right direction.
The last-minute OT loss stung Jefferson sat postgame at his locker, staring at a box score, saying, "Man, we had them."
But Bell saw long-term victory in temporary defeat.
"We were game. We kind of laid down in L.A. that first night to this team," Bell said.
He added: "To lose to the Lakers, there are worse things. We could've won [Wednesday]. We probably should've won that game. But when you get right down to it, we were slugging away with them all the way down to the last 0.7 seconds."
Notes • Jazz backup point guard Earl Watson suffered a mild sprain of his left knee with 5:49 left in the fourth quarter and did not return. He is listed as day-to-day, but acknowledged he might get a magnetic-resonance imaging exam if his knee swells Thursday.
R In short • The Jazz's five-game winning streak comes to an end and Utah loses its first home game.
Key stat • The Lakers' Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 40 points.
Key moment • Los Angeles' Pau Gasol hit a 3 midway through OT to make it 86-85, Los Angeles.