Show of strength
As if to prove their Game 2 triumph was anything but a fluke, the Jazz brought the noise Friday night at a deafening EnergySolutions Arena. Now they're halfway to leaving the Denver Nuggets with a headache that would last all summer.
The Jazz overcame a sluggish first quarter to demolish the Nuggets in the middle two quarters on the way to a 105-93 victory. Paul Millsap delivered the push with a 16-point second quarter and the Jazz built a 19-point lead in the third quarter.
Now the Jazz stand one victory in Sunday's Game 4 away from a 3-1 lead that only eight teams in NBA history have overcome to win a series. Not bad for a team missing two injured starters in Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur and all but counted out of the playoffs.
Millsap had 22 points and 19 rebounds on 11-for-14 shooting while Deron Williams had 24 points and 10 assists. The Nuggets shot 43.1 percent and had no player score in double figures other than Carmelo Anthony (25) and Chauncey Billups (25).
"Just because people were saying we weren't going to win the series, we don't care," Williams said. "We know what we can do as a team. As long as we stay together in our locker room, come out and play like we're capable of, we'll be fine."
As loud as their arena was, the Jazz couldn't have heard about being short-handed even if they tried. The Jazz dominated the Nuggets, even bullying them for a stretch at the end of the third quarter, and let them no closer than 13 points until the final seconds.
"We've kind of got a feel of what they're doing," Millsap said. "They're trying to double Deron. He's doing a great job of distributing the ball. If they continue to do that, that's how we're going to play."
The Nuggets averaged 106.5 points a game in the regular season, scored 126 and 111 points in Games 1 and 2, yet managed just 93 Friday. Aside from the fourth quarter of Game 1, the Jazz arguably have played just one bad quarter in this series.
That said, the Jazz fell behind 7-0 two minutes in and trailed 27-16 after J.R. Smith connected on a three-pointer with 2:21 left in the first quarter. They made just 8 of 25 shots in the first quarter (32.0 percent) with Carlos Boozer going 0-for-5.
Yet the Jazz closed the first quarter with a Kyrylo Fesenko layup and Wesley Matthews three-pointer as they moved the ball after the Nuggets started trapping Williams.
The Jazz then outscored Denver 14-11 with Williams on the bench for 5:59 to start the start the second quarter. Millsap and Fesenko combined for five dunks or layups during the first 31/2 minutes of the quarter.
"I was thinking of getting in the game, be aggressive, try to turn it up a little bit," Millsap said, adding, "We knew they were a little timid down there, so we attacked them."
By the end of the night, Boozer, Fesenko and Millsap had combined for 49 points and 32 rebounds on 21-for-38 shooting. The Nuggets' big men of Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen had 15 points and 24 rebounds on 3-for-15 shooting by comparison.
Millsap nearly equaled his previous playoff career high (18) in the second quarter alone, scoring 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting, including two jumpers. The Jazz took a 52-48 lead into halftime, having won the second quarter 31-21.
Boozer joked that he wished he'd known Millsap was sitting on 19 rebounds so he could have helped him get a 20-20 game. "That's the Paul Millsap we love because without Memo we need somebody else to get in there and bang around," Boozer said.
After totaling 33 points and 14 assists in Game 2, Williams had just five points and five assists at halftime, sitting more than seven minutes in the second quarter. But Williams forced the issue as the Jazz opened the second half with an 8-2 run.
Williams buried a three-pointer and pushed the ball for a three-point play at Arron Afflalo's expense as the Jazz took a 60-50 lead. C.J. Miles banked in a jumper, Williams hit a jumper and Matthews drilled a three-pointer to make it 73-60.
The Jazz closed the quarter like the biggest kid on the block, coming up with a series of impressive defensive stops. "What I'm disappointed in is the way we failed to compete tonight as a team," Anthony said.
Millsap helped force Anthony to give up the ball, and Matthews drew an offensive foul that left Anthony with his fifth personal. Matthews also hustled back after missing a three-pointer to come up with a steal.
Boozer made just 6 of 18 shots but totaled 18 points and eight rebounds, coming down with an offensive rebound off a Millsap miss and scoring to make it 80-63. Millsap then knocked Andersen on his heels before scoring to make it 82-63.
"We can't let down," Boozer said, adding, "The biggest game of the series is going to be the next game. They're going to come out fighting hard to try to tie the series up and we've got to want it more than them, execute better than them and stay hungry like we are."
Gordon Monson » With a convincing Game 3 victory, the Jazz, brimming with confidence, are making believers of us all. › D2
Kurt Kragthorpe » After Game 2, Denver's Carmelo Anthony said dryly, "The fun starts now." He was right, but Friday night, it wasn't his team having fun. › D2
Jazz notes » Larry H. Miller Court makes its debut. > D3
Brilliant bench » Millsap, Fesenko deliver in the clutch. > D3
Steve Luhm » O'Connor focusing on Jazz's lottery pick from Knicks. > D3
Nuggets notes » Billups says Karl had energy when he visited practice. > D4
Photos » Friday's Game 3 victory in pictures. > D4
» In short » The Jazz trail by 11 in the first quarter but flatten the Nuggets in the second and third quarters on the way to a Game 3 victory.
Key moment » Paul Millsap nearly outscores the Nuggets by himself in the second quarter, with 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting.
Key stat » The Nuggets scored 126 and 111 points in games 1 and 2, yet manage just 93 in Game 3.
Celtics 100, Heat 90 » With the game tied, Paul Pierce demands the ball and hits the game-winner as time expires to give Boston a 3-0 lead. › D4
Spurs 94, Mavericks 90 » A bloody nose doesn't stop Manu Ginobili, who scores 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Spurs. › D4