Fast Breaks: Jazz-Nuggets, Game 4
Im simplest terms, Utah played playoff basketball, the Nuggets did not
Where would the Jazz be had they traded Carlos Boozer, as was earlier rumored?
Except for 'Melo, the Nuggets cannot seem to put together a solid effort
Carmelo Anthony was brilliant in scoring 39 points in Game 4 against the Jazz, but he got little help for the second straight game as the Nuggets fell 117-106 to a Utah team that played the way playoff teams are supposed to play. A home date Wednesday may allow the Nuggets to extend the series, but with the passive manner in which they've played, a win in Game 5 would only delay their now-inevitable series loss. Let's take a peek at how the Jazz went up 3-1 Sunday night.
Sometimes the best moves are the ones not made. After re-signing Paul Millsap last summer, the Jazz were rumored to be in any number of trade scenarios that would have rid them of Carlos Boozer's fat contract, which has put a strain on the Jazz's small-market finances. Smartly, the Jazz held onto Boozer and their Finals hopes, which the eight-year veteran offered a glimpse of in Game 4. Boozer was assertive from the opening tip, hitting five of his first six shots, and not simply jumpers, but drives to the basket that kept Kenyon Martin on his heels and in foul trouble. He also played cheerleader for a supporting cast far different than what Jerry Sloan must have imagined it would be back on Opening Night. And finally, when the Nuggets made a late run to cut a 19-point lead to single digits in the fourth quarter, it was Boozer helping to stave off the comeback with his passing and shooting.
Divide and conquer. As they did in Game 3, the Jazz were a much better team than the Nuggets. Four scored at least 18 points, and Utah combined for 24 assists, compared to Denver's 13. And though Deron Williams led the dime parade, he got plenty of help from the likes of Boozer, who passed up a shot on a night when he hit 13-of-19 to dish an inside bounce pass to Kyrylo Fesenko. Though Denver's uninspired offensive effort played into it, the Jazz defense again pestered the Nuggets' shooters into submission until a late shift into cruise control allowed the score to become somewhat respectable.
One is a lonely number. With their postseason hopes in deep trouble, the Nuggets offered a solid effort for about 12 minutes combined at the beginning and end of the game. Too bad no one showed up for the other 36. Well, there was Anthony (we'll get to him later), but the rest of the team shot 41.3 percent. Chauncey Billups had a forgettable night, shooting 6-of-14, handing out only four assists and offering little resistance to Williams' direction of the Utah offense. Martin followed suit defensively, letting Boozer dominate the paint, and J.R. Smith demonstrated why George Karl has called him one of the best bad players he's coached. In 34 minutes, Smith, whose job is simply to score, hit 3-of-11 and didn't attempt his first three-pointer until the first-half buzzer sounded. The offense seemed to wake up midway through the fourth, but if it takes a 19-point deficit on the road in a must-win game to get you playing, your season will be over soon.
Coach of the postseason. Jerry Sloan has yet to win Coach of the Year honors despite a career 60.4 winning percentage over 25 years. That streak continued this season when Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks won the honor for guiding the Thunder into the playoffs. Now that we're all here, though, there is no one doing more with less than Sloan. Consider the players starting alongside Williams and Boozer in Game 4: C.J. Miles, Wes Matthews and Fesenko. That trio started only 41.8 percent of the Jazz's games this season, and yet Sloan has this under-the-radar crew within a game of ousting one of last year's Western Conference finalists. Mind you, Denver is healthy outside of Karl's absence, while Utah has been without Andrei Kirilenko the entire series and Mehmet Okur for all but 11 minutes. Sure, it helps to have a guy like Williams in your corner, but Sloan's plays have allowed guys like Miles to find space to shoot, and his no-excuses ethos has let the Jazz take the injuries in stride and dance with who's willing and able.
Melo Man Ace. While the rest of his teammates were busy making summer vacation plans, Anthony played with an aggression superstars need to bring in the playoffs. Time and again, Anthony emerged from a thicket of white uniforms to grab offensive rebounds (six) and fire off put-backs. Despite the 39 points, 11 boards and four steals, Anthony couldn't inspire a similar effort from anyone else on the Nuggets' bench. While that says more about Anthony's teammates than it does about him, it still has us wondering what's missing, and where's the leadership?
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