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Jazz reserves spark short-handed Utah to 2-1 series lead

By Andrew Aragon, for
Posted Saturday April 24, 2010 2:46AM

SALT LAKE CITY ( exclusive) -- It doesn't matter how shorthanded the Utah Jazz are in the NBA playoffs, especially when Deron Williams plays at an All-Star level, and they get monumental contributions from unexpected sources.

Like Paul Millsap.

Millsap had career playoff highs of 22 points and 19 rebounds to lead Utah to a 105-93 win over Denver in Game 3 of the first-round series between the two teams. Game 4 is Sunday, and the Jazz have a 2-1 lead in the series.

Utah got off to a rocky start, as Denver opened the game on a 7-0 run, and built its biggest lead of the game at 27-16. Carlos Boozer missed his first five shots, but Millsap's play erased many of Utah's early ills.

"The way Paul came in and played the game, it didn't matter," Boozer said. "He played like that, it didn't matter what the rest of us did. He played a monster game."

Millsap's first half was especially impressive. He had 18 points on a perfect 9-for-9 shooting. He also had eight of his rebounds.

"I just wanted to be aggressive, establish myself down low," Millsap said. "They were kind of timid down there so we attacked them."

The Nuggets' focus on defense was to double Williams, and to stop his dribble penetration. That left things open for Millsap near the basket, and for Boozer when he got going in the second half.

"We kind of have a feel for what they are doing," Millsap said. "They are doubling Deron and that helps put the numbers in our favor. If they want to double him, we will take the numbers."

Williams had another big game in the series with 24 points and 10 assists. Despite the extra attention the Nuggets paid to him, Williams still mostly had his way against them.

"Obviously, when Paul came in the game we started getting some stuff because Deron was terrific getting him the basketball, and he made some great moves to get to the basket," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "They made a commitment to try and keep Deron boxed in. Deron did a great job of getting the ball to the right people."

The Jazz quickly erased their early 27-16 deficit. They went on a 15-2 run that took a little more than five minutes and was bridged by the first and second quarters. Millsap scored eight of Utah's points during the spurt, and rookie Wesley Matthews hit a big 3-pointer late in the first to give the Jazz a boost.

Utah took control with a dominant third quarter. The Jazz held the Nuggets to 33 percent shooting and forced six turnovers during the period. Williams had 10 points and sparked two 8-0 runs. The second gave the Jazz a 70-56 lead.

"Our defense got us going," Boozer said. "We got back (in transition), got some stops, made them shoot some tough ones. Our defense got us going and our offense followed suit."

The Jazz, without starters in Mehmet Okur (done for the season) and Andrei Kirilenko (hopes to return if the series goes six or seven games), got a balanced effort outside of Williams and Millsap. Boozer had 18 points and eight rebounds after missing his first five shots. Matthews had 14 points and made three 3-pointers.

Utah also got a spark from Kyrylo Fesenko, who had nine points, five rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes of play.

"We had a lot of guys play well when you look at the whole picture," said Sloan. "Deron was sensational and so was Paul. We had a lot of guys that really filled in."

The third quarter was disastrous for the Nuggets, who only trailed by four points at halftime.

"That third quarter was frustrating," said Denver guard Chauncey Billups, who scored 25 points. "They opened up that lead. You go from having a pretty good first half to ? bam ? you're down 16 on the road."

Carmelo Anthony also had 25 points for the Nuggets, but picked up his fifth foul with 1:05 left in the third quarter. By then, the game was pretty much decided.

"What I'm disappointed in is the way we failed to compete tonight as a team," Anthony said. "We came out in the third quarter and had a chance to keep the momentum going. They made a run and we just started looking back from there."

The Nuggets can only look ahead now and try to regain homecourt advantage in the series. After Sunday, the series returns to Denver for Game 5 on Wednesday.

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