Denver » For all the talk about reaching the Western Conference semifinals for a rematch against the Lakers while resting between series, the Jazz still have some very real work to do in finishing off the Denver Nuggets in the first round.
The task of beating the Nuggets for a fourth consecutive time and closing out this series on the road proved too great Wednesday night as Denver rose up with a 36-point third quarter and went on to a 116-102 Game 5 victory at Pepsi Center.
Even after losing Nene to a sprained knee in the second quarter, the Nuggets took control in the third quarter to extend their season. They hit 13 of 18 shots as a team with Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups combining for 23 points.
As celebrated as their playoff run has been after losing Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur to injures, the Jazz now must take care of business in Friday's Game 6 at EnergySolutions Arena at 8 p.m. or risk returning to Denver for Game 7 on Sunday.
"They're probably sitting there thinking, 'All we've got to do is steal this one and it's a whole new series,' " Deron Williams said. "It's very important to get this over with on Friday, but it's not going to be easy."
Williams fouled out with 34 points and 10 assists, becoming the first player in NBA history to total 20 points and 10 assists in the first five games of a playoff series. Carlos Boozer had 25 points and 16 rebounds but it wasn't enough for the Jazz.
Not with the Nuggets scoring 66 points on 59.4 percent shooting in the second half, a full display of the firepower the Jazz feared entering this series. It wasn't just Anthony and Billups, though they finished with 26 and 21 points respectively.
The Nuggets also got contributions from J.R. Smith, who broke out of his shooting slump with four three-pointers and scored 17 points, as well as Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen and Johan Petro, who combined for 32 points and 22 rebounds in Nene's absence.
"We know who they are, they're a terrific team to start with, and we're going to have to play extremely well to beat them," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.
"We've played pretty well for the most part, most of the games, but we didn't have a full second half tonight to try to compete against them."
C.J. Miles described the Nuggets as coming out "super-aggressive" in the second half while Sloan thought his defense "kind of broke down a little bit." Billups was credited by Miles and Williams with speeding up the game after battling foul trouble in the first half.
"They scored 22 points in about six minutes," Williams said. "That's the runs that we talked about not letting them have before the series started. When they have runs like that, it's hard to beat this team."
The Nuggets took an 86-81 lead into the fourth quarter, which Williams opened on the bench before returning with 9:51 remaining and the Jazz trailing 91-86. He promptly found Paul Millsap for a layup and hit a hanging jumper as the anxiety built.
After Millsap scored inside, the Jazz were within 94-92 with 8:07 left. But Martin grabbed the offensive rebound after Anthony missed a jumper and scored. Smith then connected on his second three-pointer of the quarter and retreated down court with arms outstretched.
The Jazz called timeout down 99-92 only to have Boozer miss a jumper and Petro tip in a miss to give Denver a nine-point lead. The Nuggets poured it on from there, capped by Smith's breakaway windmill dunk with 3:25 to play after a Williams turnover.
The Nuggets trailed 52-50 at halftime, but started the second half with a vengeance, hitting nine of their first 10 shots. They outscored the Jazz 20-10 in the first 4:45 of the second half behind Billups and Anthony.
"It seemed like they scored every time down and we were playing from behind the rest of the game," Boozer said.
Billups connected on two three-pointers and Anthony got behind Miles to score as part of a three-point play. Williams huddled the Jazz together in the lane after the basket but Anthony went on to hit a jumper and drive for a layup to make it 70-62.
"We were having too many mental lapses at the time," Miles said of the message Williams delivered. "They were getting easy baskets. It wasn't like they were making tough shots.
"They got a bunch of a layups and some open shots, and that's what we don't want to give them and get them confident where they just start making everything because they're a real streaky team from the outside and they got so many easy shots they just got on a roll."
Nene was lost to a sprained left knee in the second quarter, did not return and will be reevaluated today. The Jazz got limited contributions, meanwhile, from Miles, who battled foul trouble and had nine points, and Kyle Korver, who missed all six shots he attempted.
Bring it on home
In short » The Nuggets go into halftime trailing, but keep their season alive with a second-half surge to win Game 5 and force Game 6 on Friday at EnergySolutions Arena.
Key moment » After the Jazz close within two in the fourth quarter, Kenyon Martin scores off a putback and J.R. Smith strokes a three-pointer.
Key stat » The Nuggets have 20 assists and six players score in double figures.