McLeod, Okur Spark Jazz Past Nuggets
Utah 103, Denver 90
SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 1 (Ticker) -- Keith McLeod and Mehmet Okur helped the Utah Jazz avenge their worst loss of the season.
McLeod scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half and Okur added 28 as the Jazz posted a 103-90 victory over the reeling Denver Nuggets.
"After we got beat by 30 points over there, I didn't know what we would do tonight," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "I thought our guys came out strong, they ran hard, really tried to help each other and they went after the basket a little harder than they did the other night."
"I think Utah had in the back of their minds the game when we beat them by 30 points," Denver forward Carmelo Anthony said. "Any time we beat a team like that and come right back (to play them), they're always going to get motivated and try to punch us first before we hit them."
Despite a porous second quarter, the Jazz maintained their intensity in the second half and finally took control late in the third quarter. After Andre Miller hit a jumper with 2:47 left in the third to draw the Nuggets within 69-66, the Jazz erupted for a 13-1 surge bridging the third and fourth quarters to take a commanding 15-point lead.
"We started to push the ball. We just got rebounds and beat Denver at their game," Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko said. "They like to run a lot, and sometimes they forget about defense. So we kind of forced them, with our fast attack, to get back (on defense)."
Okur, Jarron Collins and Milt Palacio made six free throws before the end of the quarter to make it 75-67 and McLeod, who played just eight minutes in the first half, continued the momentum with a layup 23 seconds into the final quarter.
Matt Harpring followed with a three-point play and Kirilenko capped the spurt with a layup with 10:11 to go, pushing Utah's lead to 82-67. Denver got not closer than 12 thereafter.
"We were active, we attacked the basket and got to the free-throw line," Okur said. "I think we did well tonight, especially in the second half."
After shooting just 32 percent from the floor in an ugly loss to San Antonio on Monday night, the Jazz came out firing Wednesday, connecting on 55 percent from the floor (37-of-67). Their 34 first-quarter points were more than they could muster the entire first half against the Spurs.
"We shot the ball when we were open. We shot the ball with confidence," Jazz guard Milt Palacio said. "In practice, coach got after us a little bit. Today, we got some good shots up. We just ran our offense and the shots fell when they needed to."
With Gordan Giricek sidelined with tendinitis in his left Achilles tendon, Sloan decided to start two point guards in McLeod and Palacio. The move paid off as the duo combined for 30 points and 11 assists to pace a Utah offense that collected 23 assists on 37 field goals.
"I thought our guards got us off to a good start. Palacio and McLeod and everyone else got involved, and consequently we got more assists," Sloan said. "I think we had a little more energy to push the ball."
Camby was sidelined with a left shoulder injury and the Nuggets missed his presence down low. The Jazz scored 40 points in the paint and held a 40-23 rebounding advantage. Denver managed only eight rebounds in the entire first half.
Still, the Nuggets held a 54-49 halftime advantage before coming out cold in the third quarter, when they made just 6-of-20 from the floor (30 percent) as the Jazz took the lead and never looked back.
"They just beat our butts tonight. It's that simple," Nuggets guard Earl Boykins said. "They returned the favor. They came out tonight and played great basketball."
Anthony scored 20 points and Kenyon Martin contributed 18 for the Nuggets, who have lost four straight following a seven-game winning streak.
Kirilenko had 21 points, five rebounds, five assists and five blocks for Utah, while Harpring added 11 points off the bench.