Jazz Win in Denver to Even Series
This is why you don't overreact after the first game of a best-of-seven series.
The Utah Jazz were already without Andrei Kirilenko before losing Mehmet Okur early in Game 1 to a torn Achilles'. The team was virtually left for dead before the series continued on Monday night, but behind a monster performance from Deron Williams, the Jazz went into Denver and took Game 2 by a final score of 114-111, taking home court advantage with them back to Utah in the process.
Williams finished with 33 points and 14 assists, and Carlos Boozer added 20 points and 15 rebounds. The Jazz shot almost 53 percent from the field, while holding Carmelo Anthony to 32 points on a 9-for-25 night of shooting. The teams combined to shoot 91 free throws, in what was one of Utah's famously physical playoff performances.
The Jazz pushed the tempo and made the most of their offensive opportunities, putting up 63 points by halftime and extending their 12-point lead that they held at the break to 14 early in the third. The Nuggets then went on a 14-0 run in a blistering four-minute stretch to tie it, at which point it seemed as though the shorthanded Jazz might have finally begun to run out of gas.
But Williams was able to stabilize his team, getting to the line for six free throw attempts to end the period, while assisting on two of Kyle Korver's three made jumpers in that stretch. Utah held Denver without a field goal for the final 3:50 of the third, and regained control with a six-point advantage as the teams headed into the fourth.
The final period was a good one, with the lead changing hands four times and never exceeding six points for either team. Denver led by one at 106-105 with just under a minute and a half left, when Kyle Korver hit a three-pointer that put Utah up for good.
Chauncey Billups shot 91 percent from the free throw line for the season, but missed one that would have tied the game with under a minute to go. Billups also missed a running look at a three-pointer that would have tied it just before time expired.
Anthony fouled out with his team trailing by one and 25 seconds remaining, attempting to get a steal from Utah's C.J. Miles. It appeared that Miles stepped out of bounds before Anthony committed the foul, but the referees didn't see it that way, so Denver was without its best player for those last few critical possessions.
"I won't even talk about 'em," Anthony said afterward, when asked about the officials. "Next question."
The next question for the Nuggets, obviously, is whether the team can reclaim the home court advantage by winning one of the next two games in Utah, which is known as one of the toughest road environments in the entire league. It's true that Denver is more talented and at full strength, while Utah is struggling to get by without two of its top five players. But coaching in this series is something that can't be understated.
Adrian Dantley is doing what he can in George Karl's absence, but he might be in over is head trying to push all the right buttons with this Nuggets team. Meanwhile, Jerry Sloan is just doing what he's done for the past 20 years in Utah. He runs an extremely tight ship and demands maximum effort and execution from a roster built specifically to play his physical yet skilled brand of basketball.
Just as it was unfair to overreact after Game 1, we must be careful not to put too much stock into Game 2. But one thing is clear: even without Okur and Kirilenko, the Jazz are a talented and well-coached team that will not bow out of the postseason without a fight. Equally tough and ready for the battle, Anthony seemingly wouldn't have it any other way.
"They did their job, they came here and got a win," he said. "The fun starts now."