Jazz get win as Williams has duel with Hornets' Paul
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Get it straight: Sunday was just a typical work night to Deron Williams, No. 59 in a series of 82, merely another borderline-heroic effort of straightening out the Jazz's slow-to-rev offense and notching the now-inevitable victory. It was a 108-94 win with absolutely nothing unusual, memorable or even noticeable about it.
And that guy playing the bump-bump-swipe defense all night long, the one who turned the second half into a riveting back-and-forth duel of passing and shooting? The guy who, you know, hugged the Jazz's point guard at midcourt at the final horn?
Hmmm. Didn't catch his name.
"It's just another game to me," Williams insisted in the locker room. "It's a big game to y'all. The media loves it."
Yeah, a national TV audience probably enjoyed it, too. Williams clearly tired of comparisons to Chris Paul about, just a hunch, 10 minutes after he was drafted two summers ago. But you can't deny that there seems to be a little extra zing to their matchups ever since, something just a bit more robust than a generic, random which-guy-you-got pairing.
Oh wait, maybe you can deny it.
"If you think that, it's stupid," Williams tsk-tsked. "I play hard every night."
Nobody doubts that, especially the Hornets. Williams piled up 20 points, 16 of them after halftime to help erase the latest in a series of Jazz late arrivals. Then he outdueled his - what, nemesis? Archrival? Media-hogging, endorsement-stealing, Rookie-of-the-Year dream killer? - down the stretch, making the Jazz's 40th victory, and 11th in 13 games, a lopsided affair.
"I think he tries harder" against Paul, chimed in Matt Harpring, who might be lucky to receive an entry pass this month if he's going to spout such heresy.
"Deron had a lot of pressure on him," agreed Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "I thought he did a lot of things to help our team, that's what I saw."
He saw a pretty fervid competition between the stud point guards near the end. Paul charged into the lane and dropped the ball off to Chandler for a dunk. Williams answered with a look-away pass to Mehmet Okur out front for a three-pointer. Paul parried with a spinning dart through traffic to Desmond Mason for a baby hook, one of his 13 assists. Williams responded by beating the shot clock with a 20-foot fall-away from practically on his back.
And always, they were right up on each other, running each other into screens and giving a little extra contact.
If the battle was a draw, at least Williams had the better teammates, and ultimately another road win. Utah completed a sweep of its three-game trip and won for the eighth time in 10 games away from home.
"I look at our schedule and think, how can we beat anybody?" the always-pessimistic Sloan said. These days, though, how can anybody beat them?
Jumping on the Jazz early doesn't matter. Utah fell behind 15-5 in the game's first six minutes. Though not the 18-2 calamity the Jazz endured in Memphis, it was annoying enough.
They overcame that bit of stickiness in an unusual way, for them: By getting farther from the basket. Williams, Okur (who finished with 28 points) and Gordan Giricek combined to score 14 hoops in the second half, and none was in the immediate vicinity of the basket. Layups may be the Jazz's staple (and Carlos Boozer had enough to score 17 points), but against a Hornet defense anchored by Tyson Chandler, Williams adjusted by making an extra pass or two and finding wide-open shots.
"That's an unusual thing for us," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, noting his team's deficit in the paint (56-32), just the third time that's happened in 2007. "They took us out of a lot of pick-and-rolls. They did a great job defending us inside. We had to make shots out on the perimeter."
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