SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—Utah’s reserves were able to do what the starters couldn’t for the first 12 minutes—get inside and score on the Denver Nuggets.
Paul Millsap(notes) led a surge early in the second quarter that got Utah back into Game 3 after a disastrous start, then the Jazz took control of the game and their Western Conference playoff series with a 105-93 victory Friday night.
“That’s what we do, especially coming off the bench,” said Millsap, who finished with career highs of 22 points and 19 rebounds. “When other guys aren’t really feeling it at the time, we’ve got to come in and do a good job of trying to spark them and get them going.”
Millsap was able to find a few creases in Denver’s defense that widened into gaping holes as the Nuggets’ continued to unravel.
Game 4 is Sunday in Utah, where the Nuggets will need to win to avoid falling behind the short-handed Jazz 3-1.
Millsap’s 18 points in the second quarter gave the Jazz a chance to recover after Carlos Boozer(notes) and Deron Williams(notes) struggled early. Once Williams and Boozer got going, the Nuggets never recovered in their first road playoff game of the series.
Utah limited Denver’s Carmelo Anthony(notes) to 25 points and flustered him into five fouls. He also had just four free throw attempts after taking 19 while scoring a combined 74 points in the series’ first two games.
“What I’m most disappointed at is that we failed to compete tonight as a team,” Anthony said. “I think the Utah Jazz have done a good job making some adjustments defending me. When I get the ball I see two guys, three triple-teaming me. It’s not just one guy on me.”
Williams finished with 24 points and 10 assists and Boozer added 18 points despite missing his first five shots.
“We knew they were going to trap me and try and get the ball out of my hands. It took a little while to figure things out and settle down but then we knew what to do,” Williams said.
Denver shut down Utah inside through the first quarter, forcing the Jazz into outside shots that usually missed and bounced right to one of the Nuggets, who led by as many as 11 points.
Millsap ended that trend with two quick layups and a dunk as the Jazz opened the second quarter on an 8-2 run. He made his first nine shots and finished 11 of 14 from the field for Utah.
“The rim gets big, especially when you get a few layups and get yourself going,” Millsap said.
The Jazz outscored Denver 31-21 in the second quarter, then topped that with 32 points in the third while holding the flustered Nuggets to 20. Denver’s woes slowly built throughout the quarter as the Jazz quickly pounced to stop any rallies, then the Nuggets really lost their composure at the end of the period.
I thought they came out and once again got layups and the whistles started to blow and they controlled the tempo. On the other end, we couldn’t get shots to go down,” Billups said. “It was like a snowball. It got frustrating in the third quarter.”
The Jazz were already surging before Matthews took a high elbow while defending Anthony with 1:05 left in the third, sending Denver’s frustrated superstar to the bench with his fifth foul.
Anthony, who had four offensive fouls and fouled out in Game 2, was stuck watching as the Jazz took an 84-68 lead into the fourth quarter and continued surging early in the final period.
Utah’s lead reached 23 points and even Anthony, who scored 42 in the series opener, couldn’t rescue Denver when he returned in the fourth.
Utah finished with 27 assists and just nine turnovers.
“We didn’t turn the ball over and we played as a team,” coach Jerry Sloan said.
Millsap had never made more than seven shots in a playoff game. He was 9 of 9 in the first half and his 18 points were one better than his previous postseason high of 17 scored against the Lakers two years ago. Millsap didn’t miss a shot until late in the third quarter and Boozer was right there for the offensive rebound and putback that gave Utah an 80-63 lead.
Millsap rescued the Jazz from a wretched start, leading a group of mostly reserves on an 8-2 run to at the start of the second period that tied it. Millsap made all eight of his shots in the period, opening with a few inside and then hitting outside jumpers when the Nuggets backed off to keep him from sneaking back under the basket.
Denver shot 53 percent in the period, but Utah made 70 percent while outscoring the Nuggets 31-21 in the period and taking a 52-48 halftime lead.
NOTES: Kenyon Martin(notes) had 13 rebounds for the Nuggets. … The Jazz posted a large get-well banner that was covered with greetings for center Mehmet Okur(notes), who ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in the series opener and is out for the remainder of the playoffs. … Jazz fans stopped their anti-Denver chants for a few moments and switched to “M-V-P” as Williams drew a foul on a three-point play in the first quarter. … Denver had 14 turnovers to Utah’s nine.