Williams leads heavy-hearted Jazz over Paul, HornetsFeb 22, 2009 - 5:52 AM SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) -- Deron Williams has owned the head-to-head series between his rival and counterpart, Chris Paul, since the two entered the league as top-four picks in 2005. But the Utah Jazz point guard had much weightier things on his mind in this meeting.
Just one day after the Jazz lost their owner, Larry H. Miller, after complications from type 2 diabetes, Williams and his teammates collected themselves and put together their fourth straight victory, a 102-88 triumph over the New Orleans Hornets.
"It's been a tough day, I think, for everybody. Sometimes you don't have the spirit to play like you'd like to, a situation like that," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "Some guys do, some guys don't. Fortunately we were able to win the game."
The mood was more somber than usual, as Miller was honored with a moment of silence prior to tip-off and his wife, Gail, sat courtside in her customary seat beside her husband's empty one. Whether the added emotion in the air carried the Jazz or not, they came out on top once again, buoying their improving playoff chances as they get closer to full health.
"There were a lot of emotions," Williams said. "It was an important game for us, the fans, our organization, for Gail and the whole family. We were just happy to get the win for the Miller family tonight and it was a great victory for us as well."
The team has won seven of its last eight, just got defensive stalwart Andrei Kirilenko back after knee surgery and are on the verge of getting injured All-Star Carlos Boozer back as well. In this one, however, the story on the court was once again the battle between Williams and Paul, arguably the two best floor generals in the league.
And for the 10th time in 12 career meetings, Williams came out on top.
"The crowd was really into the game, the players you could tell they really wanted to win it," Paul said. "We tried to come in here and steal one, but unfortunately we came up short."
The Jazz held a big early lead but the Hornets stormed back thanks to a huge second-quarter showing from Paul and a third-quarter surge that brought them to within a pair.
"It's tough to guard him. The offense they run, a lot of pick-and-rolls, different angles they run," Williams said. "He was scoring pretty easy on us in the first half and we had to make some adjustments on him."
But Williams would have the last laugh, even if there were more tears on display at EnergySolutions Arena for most of the night. With New Orleans trailing by just six - and coming off an impressive second-half comeback in Friday's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers - Williams took over.
He pulled up from 21 feet to open up an eight-point edge, then buried his second 3-pointer of the night one possession later to extend the lead into double digits.
"They did a good job putting us in the halfcourt game," Sloan said. "That slowed us down a great deal and once we were able to push the ball and get a couple stops defensively and we're able to get the ball up the floor a little quicker, you shoot in a better rhythm when you do that. We made a couple shots because of that."
But, always a pass-first point guard, he left the biggest plays up to his offensive weapons. With less than five minutes left, Williams drove and kicked out to Mehmet Okur, who connected from the arc to push the lead to 96-81.
"Jerry Sloan's teams, one thing that is so great is that they execute," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "They always are one of the top teams in the league as far as offensive execution. Defensively, you can't get lost, you've got to play your man, you've got to be aggressive and you've got to be physical and if you have none of those things, you have no shot."
After the Hornets pulled back to within 10, the Jazz went right back to the same well - Williams pushed the ball inside, found Okur outside and the sharpshooting Turkish center buried it, all but putting the game on ice.
Kirilenko - in his third game since returning - put the finishing touch on the decisive victory, sneaking up on the weak side on a fast break and swatting Paul's layup attempt as Utah held on.
"I just saw A.K. and I knew to get out of the way," Williams said.
"A couple times they beat us down the floor, in the fourth quarter, I don't know, how many blocks did Andrei have? Four or five - and those were in the fourth quarter," Sloan said. "Helped save us a great deal."
Williams finished with 20 points and 13 assists, hitting 9-of-16 from the floor while spearheading a Utah attack that shot 49 percent (40-of-81) and turned the ball over just eight times.
"We're starting to get healthy," Jazz guard Ronnie Brewer said. "We're playing with a lot of confidence and we're feeling pretty good about ourselves. We're knocking off some of the better teams in the NBA and it felt really good to win it for Larry tonight."
Paul did his part for New Orleans, piling up 24 points to go with six assists in a losing cause.
NEW ORLEANS 88
UTAH 102 FINAL
Feb 21 11:21 PM
NEW ORLEANS 76
UTAH 84 END, 3RD QTR
Feb 21 10:51 PM
NEW ORLEANS 51
UTAH 61 HALFTIME
Feb 21 10:09 PM
NEW ORLEANS 21
UTAH 28 END, 1ST QTR
Feb 21 9:37 PM
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