Fast Breaks: Jazz, Nuggets, Game 3
The Jazz took over by scoring half of their 44 inside points in the second quarter
Denver tried to wear him down, but Deron Williams still had 24 pts. and 10 assists
Without George Karl's steady hand, the Nuggets continue their undisciplined play
The Utah Jazz may be short-handed but the Denver Nuggets are the ones groping for solutions after the Jazz pasted them -- 105-93 in a contest that wasn't that close -- to take a 2-1 lead in their best of-seven first-round series.
A Sloan-styled whupping. The Jazz's Jerry Sloan finished fourth in the recent voting for 2009-10 NBA Coach of the Year, but he was first in the hearts and minds of star point guard Deron Williams and the non-lottery draft picks and free agents who comprise Utah's overachieving roster. They ran Sloan's patented half-court sets to near-perfection, generating only a dozen fast-break points, yet compiling 27 assists versus only seven turnovers, and scoring 44 points in the paint.
Half of those paint points occurred in the second quarter, when the Jazz swung the game from a six-point deficit to a four-point halftime lead, courtesy of 8-for-8 shooting by backup power forward Paul Millsap, who finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds. Utah salted the game away in the third period by creating more Nuggets turnovers (six) than Denver had field goals (five). Garbage time came early: It was 100-77 with six minutes left to play. Sloan's troops held a Nuggets offense that was third in efficiency and scoring 14 points below their average and only 12 assists compared to 14 turnovers. Succinctly put, it was a Jerry Sloan game for the time capsule.
Blitzing D-Will with limited success. After Williams torched them for 33 points and 14 assists in Game 2, the Nuggets were clearly intent on going right at Utah's point guard and making him play defense in Game 3. Chauncey Billups got up six shots for 10 points in the first quarter, and when Aaron Afflalo got in early foul trouble, interim coach Adrian Dantley opted for speedy point guard Ty Lawson beside Billups in the backcourt to further tax Williams' endurance. But D-Will again got stronger as the game went on, scoring 19 of his 24 points in the second half and combating double-teams with passes to Carlos Boozer and Millsap to finish with 10 assists and one turnover.
The discipline gap is again obvious. The contrast in approach and maturity between the two clubs is becoming an unfortunate stereotype for Denver. With their aggressively canny veteran coach George Karl undergoing cancer treatments and thus not around to foster teamwork and squelch the dramatics, the Nuggets continue to pick up silly fouls (especially Carmelo Anthony, who again lost precious second half minutes due to five fouls), argue fruitlessly with the officials (Birdman Andersen received a technical), fail to defend relentlessly (Utah is shooting 51 percent through the first three games) and too often resort to questionable shots try to beat their man in isolation on offense. Meanwhile, a Jazz squad without their best defender (Andrei Kirilenko) and starting center (Mehmet Okur) are running a clinic on how to maximize their talent.
Easy prescription for gold Nuggets. Okur's replacement, the big galoot Kyrylo Fesenko, is a heartwarming underdog but also a collection of personal fouls waiting to happen. Both Boozer and Millsap are game but undersized, and Okur and Kirilenko are on the shelf. The Jazz would seem to be no match for the potent combination of size and athleticism that Denver center Nene represents, and 'Melo is a beast in the low block. Yet the Nuggets had just 18 points in the paint in the first half, and Nene attempted only four shots in over 37 minutes of play. By pounding the ball inside the way they have most of the season (they shots nearly 300 more free throws than any other team), they could quickly deplete Utah's already thin front line and open up the perimeter for marksmen like Billups and J.R. Smith. Why they aren't deploying this strategy with single-minded purpose and a modicum of patience is a mystery.
Nerd alert. Gold stars to muckers Kyle Korver and Wes Matthews Jr. for impacting the game nearly as much as Williams and Millsap. There was one sequence where Korver stripped a Nugget in the paint as he was going up for an easy bucket, then made a headlong dive across the floor to divert the loose ball to a teammate, then got it back and nailed a three-pointer. Korver was a game-high plus-22 in 25 minutes. Matthews was often the principal defender hounding 'Melo, the Jazz player who recovered most rapidly in transition, and a rookie who performed in a rugged but clean manner befitting the playoffs while chipping in 18 points.
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