Williams, Jazz cool off red-hot Trail BlazersJan 1, 2008 - 6:17 AM By Chris Bellamy PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) -- Twice bitten in the last three weeks already, the Utah Jazz weren't about to let the Portland Trail Blazers get by them a third time.
On the last day of a dreadful month for the team, the Jazz put at least one foot in the right direction, avenging two earlier defeats with a decisive 111-101 victory over the surging Blazers on Monday.
Deron Williams scored 18 points and dished out eight assists and Carlos Boozer added 19 points and nine rebounds to lead six Jazz players in double figures as the club closed out the calendar year on a high note to get back over the .500 mark at 17-16.
"It's a great way to end the year. Thank God December's over," Boozer said. "We're looking forward to January."
With his club merely treading water against its Northwest Division rivals, the point guard Williams took the challenge head-on midway through the third quarter and came out on top, scoring all 10 points in a 10-3 run that turned a four-point deficit into a 74-71 advantage.
"I just tried to be a little more aggressive than I was in the first half scoring the ball," Williams said. "Definitely when you look up and see the lead slip away, it goes into your mind that you need to be a little more aggressive."
Williams' explosive surge was the catalyst for a 17-6 run that pushed the Jazz's lead to double digits late in the period.
The Blazers didn't go away in the final quarter, but unlike recent weeks in which the Jazz have consistently relinquished fourth-quarter leads and failed to get key defensive stops down the stretch Utah didn't fold this time.
Portland pulled to within striking distance on several occasions, but rare was the occasion when the Jazz didn't have an answer.
"That's something we've lacked those responses," Williams said. "I think we did a good job of finishing out the ballgame, closing out the ballgame."
After Brandon Roy's driving layup pulled the Blazers to within four at 89-85 early in the fourth, Andrei Kirilenko back in the lineup after missing one game with a strained bicep buried a 3-pointer to quell Portland's surging momentum.
Utah's lead was sliced to three just 1 1/2 minutes later, but Kirilenko found an open Kyle Korver under the basket for a three-point play.
"I just think we played with confidence tonight. When we got that lead, we sustained it," Jazz forward Matt Harpring said. "We didn't have the turnovers, we didn't have the mental mistakes to let them back into the game."
With less than five minutes to play, Korver - making his Jazz debut after getting traded from Philadelphia for Gordan Giricek and a first-round pick - was on the receiving end of another heads-up pass, as Williams grabbed a miss by Martell Webster and launched a full-court heave to Korver for an easy layup and a 101-91 lead with 4:43 to go.
"That's what I try to do is try and bring energy," Korver said. "I'm not out there trying to seek out my own shots. I'm trying to play within the system. We've got a bunch of great players here, I'm just trying to fit in."
The loss snapped a 13-game winning streak for the Blazers, the longest such streak in the NBA this season. The team's top two scorers did their part, as LaMarcus Aldridge scored 36 points on 12-of-17 shooting and Roy added 17, including nine in the final period.
"A lot of people didn't expect (the winning streak). We just approached it one game at a time," Roy said. "That's going to be the way we're going to approach things now. ... It was a great run, but it's over with, and now we've got a taste of success so we want to continue."
The struggling Jazz, who have just three home losses on the season, including one to Portland and one just two days ago to the league-best Boston Celtics, defended home court this time around.
The first two meetings between the Jazz and Blazers were just as heated, and appropriately epitomized the contrasting directions the two clubs took during the season's grueling second month.
Portland dealt Utah just its second home loss of the season on December 11 behind 25 points from Webster and defensive pressure that held Williams to just 4-of-15 shooting.
"The biggest problem we had when we played this team two times before is they zoned us in the fourth quarter and we couldn't make shots," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "Fortunately we made a few tonight and stayed in the ballgame."
Three days later in Portland, the Blazers thwarted the Jazz's chance at revenge, dominating the fourth quarter to rally for a 99-91 win.
The loss was Utah's sixth in a row, part of a brutal stretch in which the team dropped 11 of 14, suddenly slipping from Western Conference contender to pushover in a matter of weeks.
Meanwhile Portland, an afterthought after starting the season 5-12, moved into a surprising first-place tie in the Northwest.
Kirilenko added 14 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Jazz and Harpring and Paul Millsap scored 15 and 14, respectively.
UTAH 111 FINAL
Dec 31 10:35 PM
UTAH 87 END, 3RD QTR
Dec 31 9:58 PM
UTAH 52 HALFTIME
Dec 31 9:06 PM
UTAH 23 END, 1ST QTR
Dec 31 8:35 PM
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