Williams, Boozer team up again to upend RocketsMar 5, 2009 - 6:11 AM SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) -- For most of the last month, the Utah Jazz have been living in a perpetual state of deja vu. As they squared off against one of their oldest rivals and frequent playoff companions Wednesday night, the status quo remained the same.
The league's hottest team won its ninth consecutive contest - and 12th in its last 13 games - fighting off the Houston Rockets for a 101-94 victory to continue its surge in the Western Conference playoff picture.
The Jazz and Rockets have met in the first round of the playoffs each of the last two seasons, with the former coming out on top both times. But with Utah's top players battling injuries for most of the season, Houston had won both head-to-head meetings this campaign.
"We've been hampered with injuries, so it's the first time we've had everyone on the court at the same time. You know, we're happy about that," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "Hopefully we can keep it going. This was a big one tonight."
With the roster back at full health, that trend was reversed. Carlos Boozer put together his biggest performance since returning from a knee surgery, posting 20 points and 17 rebounds, and Williams came up with two clutch jumpers in the final minute en route to a 26-point, 14-assists effort as the Jazz escaped with the victory.
"I thought our guys played hard," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "It was nice to see Boozer back, to see him play well. Deron Williams had a great game. This is a tough team to play against."
It was a physical battle all night, as both centers - Utah's Mehmet Okur and Houston superstar Yao Ming - fouled out in the fourth quarter. But both teams had more than enough weapons even in the midst of foul trouble.
"I'm getting more comfortable out there," Boozer said. "I'm back with my teammates, we're working hard every day. Me and D-Will have got our chemistry back. You know we're very humble, we've got a long way to go. For me, I felt really good with my knee."
Ultimately, it was Williams who tipped the scales, continuing his brilliant play that has propelled the Jazz into contender status out West. Houston had erased a nine-point deficit to pull even on Yao's baseline fadeaway with just under five minutes on the clock.
With most of the Rockets' attention on Williams, he made the plays he needed anyway, penetrating inside and finding Boozer for a bucket, swiping Kyle Lowry on the other end and then hitting Ronnie Brewer underneath to push the lead back to four.
"I definitely felt like I could get pretty much anywhere I wanted to get tonight," Williams said. "Shot felt good. Going to the basket felt good."
"In the fourth quarter, we came back to win it but couldn't do it. Deron Williams is very good. He controls the game and made a lot of open jumpers," Houston coach Rick Adelman said. "Williams is going to find the right situation. They are always aggressive, that's how they play."
He saved his best for the last minute. With his Jazz nursing a four-point lead, he drove in from the left wing, stepped back and buried a soft 13-footer. However, Ron Artest did him one better on the other end, connecting on a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Williams wasn't phased. This time, he let nearly the entire shot clock whittle down before burying a back-breaking 20-foot jumper with 21 seconds remaining, the sellout crowd erupting in unison with the Rockets' countenance falling.
"I just hit the one before that, so I just felt good about it," Williams said. "I felt I could free myself up over a shorter guard and get a good shot."
Only a half-game separates the Jazz (38-23) and Rockets (39-23) in the ever-tightening Western Conference standings. Utah is now within one game of the first-place Denver Nuggets (39-22) in the Northwest Division, with a head-to-head meeting between the two slated for Friday night in Salt Lake City.
"(That) is a huge battle for us," Boozer said. "They're very up-tempo, they've got a lot of talented players. They play at a high octane offense, a lot like Golden State. ... We'll be ready for them, they'll be ready for us."
Artest knocked down five 3-pointers and led his club with 25 points to go with five boards and five assists.
"We've got some things to work on," Artest said. "We'll get better from this."
Okur added 16 points and eight boards for the Jazz, who held a 45-31 advantage on the glass and went 17-of-17 from the free-throw line.
UTAH 101 FINAL
Mar 4 11:27 PM
UTAH 75 END, 3RD QTR
Mar 4 10:49 PM
UTAH 48 HALFTIME
Mar 4 10:09 PM
UTAH 22 END, 1ST QTR
Mar 4 9:35 PM
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