SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—Carlos Arroyo wasn’t supposed to get the pass on the inbounds play.
But when the ball ended up in his hands, Arroyo made a leaning jumpshot as time expired and Utah beat Denver 85-83 Saturday night to move one game ahead of the Nuggets in the race for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.
“What was called and what happened were two different things,” said Raja Bell, who just beat a five-second call on the final inbounds play with 1.2 seconds left and got it to Arroyo. “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky because the play Carlos scored on was not the play we drew up.”
Perhaps the Jazz needed a little luck along with a lot of nasty defensive play to finally beat the Nuggets. Utah was 0-3 against Denver this season.
“I was just trying to get open. When I got the ball, I had to shoot a leaner to get it past Camby’s arm,” said Arroyo, who jumped into the arms of his teammates and pounded his chest as the Jazz celebrated the emotional win.
Even Utah coach Jerry Sloan had a smile on his face after the game.
“Well, that’s the kind of shot you like to see win the ballgame. It was a nice win,” Sloan said.
Greg Ostertag, who had a season-high eight blocks and helped make the Nuggets’ inside game ineffective by allowing just 12 points in the paint, was more enthusiastic.
“It’s a huge win. It gets us a step closer and we’ve got them by a game now,” Ostertag said.
The Jazz is a half-game ahead of Portland, winners in Seattle, and a game up on Denver for eighth place in the West.
Carmelo Anthony led Denver with 25 points but had just one point in the last 10:33 of the game. Rodney White scored 14 and Earl Boykins added 13 for Denver, which has lost six of its last seven on the road.
The Jazz led 83-75 then went scoreless for five minutes as the Nuggets went on an 8-0 run to tie it. Jon Barry made a 3-pointer to end Denver’s 6:33 stretch without a field goal and key the run that tied it 83-all.
Denver had a chance to take the lead but Andre Miller was called for an offensive foul backing in on Arroyo with 13.4 seconds remaining.
“Their guys do a lot of flopping, and someone (the referee) got suckered into calling it,” Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik said.
Anthony was plagued by foul trouble throughout. He played just one minute in the third quarter before picking up his fourth foul, and the Jazz outscored Denver 26-21 to take a 69-65 lead into the final period.
When Anthony returned in the fourth quarter, he struggled with his shot as the Jazz began double-teaming the rookie. In the final minute he traveled trying to get past Kirilenko and went 1-for-8 in the final period.
“Tonight we matched their physical play and were even more aggressive and physical at the end. We really stepped it up a notch,” Bell said.
Nothing came easy for Denver as the Nuggets shot just 37 percent and had 15 shots blocked. Miller, pressed to create offense in the absence of Voshon Lenard (bruised ribs), struggled to a 1-of-15 shooting performance and finished with eight points.
Denver won the teams’ previous three meetings by an average of 19.3 points, but this one was tight all the way and filled with emotion. Both teams accused the other of dirty play and cheap shots in earlier meetings and this game featured lots of contact and knockdowns.
“Tonight the atmosphere was different. The crowd was into it and everypossession was intense,” Boykins said.
Kirilenko got a hip-pointer on a scramble for a rebound in the first half, but came right back into the game. … Ostertag blocked Miller three times in a row on one possession. … The Jazz complete their back-to-back set Sunday against the Lakers where they will face Karl Malone for the first time since he left Utah after 18 seasons. Malone was injured the last time the Lakers faced Utah and did not play. … Barry was called for a technical foulin the first quarter.