Back before his days at North Carolina, the rookie was called “Sparkplug” for his ability to come into a game and provide instant energy.
“Play fast and get people involved,” Lawson said. “I’ve been doing that since I was younger.”
Lawson ignited a 9-0 run to open the fourth quarter, scoring on driving layups and quick jumpers to help the Nuggets pull away in what had been a close contest.
“There’s such a speed to the game when Ty’s on the court,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Right now, I’m just going to ride guys that are going.”
“It was a statement game for me,” Anthony said.
The Jazz certainly got the message.
“He’s a terrific player,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “He’s one of those players who knows when to start. He knows when the season is ready to start. He’s very hard to guard.”
Deron Williams(notes) led Utah with 28 points and 13 assists. Andrei Kirilenko(notes) and Ronnie Brewer(notes) each contributed 16 on a night when two-time All-Star Carlos Boozer(notes) struggled, finishing 3 of 14 and scoring 12 points—most coming late. He also had 11 rebounds.
“They really jumped us in the fourth quarter,” Williams said. “They gained some momentum with that start and we never regained it.”
It all started with Lawson, who lived up to his childhood nickname.
“That might come back now,” he said, grinning.
Denver took the lead for good with time winding down in the third quarter when Billups was fouled by Williams on a 3-point attempt with four-tenths of a second left. Billups made all three free throws to stake the Nuggets to an 82-80 lead.
Before the opening tip, Anthony grabbed the microphone and thanked the capacity crowd for braving the weather to attend the game. The Mile High City was blanketed with nearly a foot of blowing snow throughout the day.
With the Jazz already in town, though, there was no thought given to canceling the contest.
The Nuggets, who are coming off a trip to the Western Conference finals, unveiled their Northwest Division banner before the game. Denver and Utah have won the last four division crowns, capturing two apiece.
That’s why, although early, this was a crucial divisional game for the two squads, at least as far as tiebreakers are concerned. Karl said the schedule makers did them no favors by having this contest so early.
Denver plays in Portland on Thursday night, another top contender in the division. The team was hopping on a plane later in the night, hoping the snow tails off enough to depart.
The Jazz were short-handed as well, playing without Matt Harpring(notes) (ankle, knee), C.J. Miles(notes) (left thumb) and Kyle Korver(notes) (left knee). Korver had arthroscopic surgery on his knee in New York on Wednesday. He will return to Salt Lake City for rehab and will be re-evaluated on Nov. 9.
But he returned late in the first quarter wearing a flexible brace on his left knee.
“It could have been worse,” said Okur, who had 13 points. “I’ll be OK.”
NOTES: This is just the second time the Nuggets have hosted the Jazz in the season opener. Denver beat Utah, 139-125, on Oct. 28, 1983, at the defunct McNichols Sports Arena. … Official Leroy Richardson was briefly examined by the Nuggets training staff after tumbling coming up the court in the fourth quarter.