Deron Williams is back.
Not that the All-Star and Olympic guard ever really left.
But after he and his team looked absolutely un-Jazz like during a rough start to a new season, Williams was a living, breathing highlight reel Wednesday during Utah's 125-108 victory over the Toronto Raptors at EnergySolutions Arena before a crowd of 17,802.
"Everything is more open now," Williams said. "The guys are in rhythm. We're screening. We're moving. We're running through. All those things help me."
The trademarks of his game splinter-sharp passing; unyielding dribble penetration; smooth strokes fired from the hardwood were in high definition. But Williams' 22 points, game-high 14 assists and eight rebounds only told part of the story.
Utah's (2-2) team leader who spent last week pleading for increased energy, focus and overall effort from his squad backed up his words with actions, looking every bit like the face-of-the-franchise point guard many consider to be the best at his position in the game.
"How he goes is how we go. There's not any question about that," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "He had a terrific game. He was alive. He was on top of it. He was so quick with the ball you could see the difference."
Thus, Williams glided, and so did Utah. The Jazz started the game on a 15-2 run, led by 19 after the first quarter and at halftime, and then endured a resilient third-period rally by the Raptors to even an up-and-down start to 2010-11.
"I thought we played awfully well in OKC [on Sunday]," Sloan said. "But at times tonight we played a little bit better than what we did over there. It was really refreshing."
Utah collected the win despite playing without big men Kyrylo Fesenko and Jerermy Evans, and relying on a rotation that numbered nine players but often utilized only seven.
C.J. Miles and Ronnie Price helped carry the load for the Jazz. Miles scored 14 of his 19 points during the second half while knocking down 5 of his 6 3-point attempts. Meanwhile, Price (11 points on 4 of 6 shooting) used his increased minutes wisely, as the speedy reserve The Jazz outscored Toronto 64-46 in the paint and 25-20 in the fast break. In addition, Utah shot 56.5 percent (48 of 85) from the field and 43.8 percent (7 of 16) beyond the arc.
"This team does not shoot a lot of 3s," Toronto coach Jay Triano said. "But they did tonight and there's nothing we can do about it."
Andrea Bargnani topped the Raptors (1-3) with 26 points.
Utah opened strong for the second consecutive game, starting the contest with a 15-2 run. Williams expertly guided the Jazz from the start, recording 14 points, five assists and four rebounds while his team outscored the Raptors 41-22 during the first quarter.
Toronto chipped away at Utah's second unit, using a 10-3 run to pull within 44-32 midway through the second period. But Williams soon returned, and it was 66-47 Jazz at the break.
However, Utah temporarily lost its focus during the third period. The Raptors outscored the Jazz 37-25 during the quarter and chiseled a 23-point deficit down to 86-84 with two seconds left in the period.
But a rally-killing, buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Miles gave the Jazz new life and a 91-84 advantage. And the fourth quarter again belonged to a Utah team finding rhythm and on-the-court chemistry at the same time.
"It's the way you react to that run to find out if you're a good team or not," Price said.
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Jazz 125, Raptors 108
R In short • Deron Williams scores 23 points and dishes out 14 assists, and Utah evens its record with a 125-108 home victory over Toronto on Wednesday.
Key stat • The Jazz outscore the Raptors 64-46 in the paint.
Key moment • Utah starts with a 15-2 run and leads 41-22 after the first quarter.
P Jazz at Warriors Friday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • FSN Utah