SALT LAKE CITY — Staggering to the finish line has been a Utah Jazz trademark in several close games this season. More often than not, an inability to close out games in the final minutes has been a major catalyst for defeat.
Those past failures looming in the background only made the final minute against the New Orleans Pelicans feel even more uncomfortable. Utah watched a comfortable lead turn into a one-possession game in a matter of seconds.
This time, however, the Jazz scripted a different ending.
Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks each scored 21 points and hit several key free throws in the final minute to help Utah beat New Orleans 100-96 on Friday night.
“I knew we had it,” Hayward said. “We’ve been in that situation before. That’s where some of the earlier games in the season help you out because you’ve been there. They made a little run, but we were able to hold them off.”
Derrick Favors added 20 points and nine rebounds for the Jazz (24-52), who won for just the second time in their last eight home games and snapped a five-game losing streak.
Anthony Morrow scored 26 points off the bench on 9-of-11 shooting and Brian Roberts added 15 for the Pelicans (32-44), who lost their fourth straight.
After trailing at halftime, Favors swung momentum in Utah’s direction with a huge third quarter. He scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field in the quarter. Favors took advantage of a hole left inside when back spasms flared up for Pelicans forward Anthony Davis at halftime and he did not return to the court until the fourth quarter.
“I just took him out,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “At some point, you look at a guy and he wanted to play, and I just said no. We’re not in the playoffs. Every game for me is a championship game, but I’ve got to be smart.”
With Favors powering Utah’s offensive engine, the Jazz went on a 13-2 run to seize the lead. Favors ignited the spurt with three straight baskets culminating with a tip-in of a missed jumper by Hayward. Once Marvin Williams finished the run with a layup, Utah led 60-53.
The Jazz built a 10-point advantage after Hayward made back-to-back baskets to put Utah up 73-63 in the final minute of the third quarter.
New Orleans mounted a rally in the fourth quarter. The Pelicans trimmed the lead to three points on three separate occasions behind baskets from Morrow. They trailed 82-79 after a floater from Morrow with 7:16 left. Enes Kanter scored a layup to keep New Orleans from getting closer.
Then Hayward and Burks combined to each score a basket and two free throws to push Utah’s lead to 93-83 with 3:18 remaining.
The Pelicans made it interesting in the final minute after Morrow drained a pull-up 3-pointer to make it 95-93 with 17.9 seconds left. Hayward and Burks combined to make five free throws in the final 13.5 seconds to seal the win.
“It’s definitely showing (our) growth,” Favors said. “We learn and we have a little bit more experience in that area. We need to continue doing that, especially in close games like that. Just learn how to close a game up.”
Utah surged in front late in the first quarter with efficient shooting. The Jazz shot 50 percent fro the field in the quarter and it helped them overtake Pelicans after quelling repeated spurts. They staked out a 21-18 lead after Burks converted a three-point play to cap an 8-0 run.
New Orleans regained control in the second quarter after holding Utah without a basket for nearly five minutes. The Pelicans used a 13-2 spurt to turn a four-point deficit into an seven-point lead. Darius Miller capped the run with a 3-pointer to give New Orleans a 40-33 with 4:07 left before halftime.
Burks helped Utah get going again, scoring on a running layup to break a drought that lasted 4:46 after Jeremy Evans converted an alley-oop dunk to give the Jazz a 31-27 lead.
The Jazz went back ahead 43-41 on a hook shot from Kanter just before halftime — setting the stage for Favors’ third-quarter outburst.
“Bottom line is we gave up too many points in the third (quarter),” Morrow said. “Defensively, when we did get stops, we didn’t capitalize on fast breaks and opportunities on offense.”
NOTES: Tyreke Evans has flourished as a starter for the Pelicans. Coming into Friday’s game, he averaged 20.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists in 16 starts. Evans finished with just 8 points on 3-of-11 shooting. … Utah’s Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter combined for 43 double-doubles this season before facing New Orleans. Favors fell a rebound shy of getting his 24th double-double. … The Pelicans lead the NBA in blocked shots with 6.4 per game and had nine versus the Jazz on Friday night.
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