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SALT LAKE CITY - The Jazz are still undefeated at home and if someone said that would be the case after the first 24 minutes against the Nuggets it might have seemed laughable, but the team found fight at halftime and a lot of it had to do with their big man in the middle.
The Jazz were able to claw out of 65-54 hole after the first half in large part from the play of Al Jefferson. Actually they were able to stay in the game in the first half because of him as well. He lead the team and had a season-high 28 points with a fiery game from a guy that normally stays pretty mellow.
The Jazz were probably a little lucky to only be down 11 at halftime. They didn't play great and the Nuggets shot 73 percent in the first half.
We weren't doing nothing in that first half. We let them disrespect us on our home floor. They were dunking the ball, laughing in our facing, hooting and hollering and all that good stuff... I guess we just said 'enough is enough.'
"We knew what we had to do," Jefferson said. "We weren't doing nothing in that first half. We let them disrespect us on our home floor. They were dunking the ball, laughing in our facing, hooting and hollering and all that good stuff. If I was them I would have done it too, I guess we just said 'enough is enough.'"
He ended the half in a bad way with a shove on Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, who flew backwards and Jefferson got a technical. As he walked past the prone Faried his face was stone and he went into the locker room.
"The game got chippy, words were said back and forth and that woke us up," said Earl Watson.
Jefferson was focused and the team got physical. The Jazz are a different team when Jefferson puts extra effort into the defensive end. It has happened a few times over the past years, even earlier this year was against the Mavericks in the season opener.
The Mavs had 63 in the first half and there was a change in how Jefferson played. They held the Mavs to 31 in the second half. This time they held the Nuggets to 39 on 13-33 shooting.
"I just attacked," Jefferson said of the turnaround. "I felt like my shots were going in. But they were getting too many easy layups, fast break points. So we knew what we had to do. Wasn't nothing to say, just go out there an do it."
In the first half the Nuggets had a whopping 48 points in the paint. In the second it was down to 18.
The refs had their hands full in the second half, they dished out four technical fouls, including two and an ejection for the Nuggets Andre Iguodala. In the first half the Jazz were being hit and the second half they were being the aggressors and playing what Watson called "Utah basketball."
"We weren't the aggressor. We're a Utah team and we pride ourselves on our physicality," said DeMarre Carroll. "We weren't really physical in the first half and Big Al sparked it up at the end of the first half and then it just carried on to the second half. It got me hyped. It got everybody hyped so we just went out there with a bunch of energy."
The pinnacle of the newly found effort came at the end of the game, where the Nuggets had the ball down two with just a few seconds left. Randy Foye was guarding Nuggets speedy guard Ty Lawson, who had 16 points and 9 assists, as he drove to the basket. Carroll came over the top to prevent an open look. Lawson was forced to back out and the Nuggets didn't get a shot off.
The Jazz and Nuggets have a heated rivalry that keeps building and this year it seems no exception. Was the change in the game from the rivalry, the atmosphere of Energy Solutions Arena or a combination? Jefferson had the right answer for that.
"Whatever it was, it worked."