for this game

Jazz make it a perfect 10, rally past Nuggets

Mar 7, 2009 - 7:52 AM SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) -- A motivated divisional rival, a miserable first half and uncharacteristically spotty shooting - all that was working against the Utah Jazz on Friday night. And still, their late-season surge could not be stopped.

The Jazz overcame a sluggish start and poured it on in the fourth quarter to win their 10th consecutive game, 97-91, over the Denver Nuggets.

The clubs are part of a three-team battle for supremacy in the Northwest Division, which the Jazz have won each of the last two seasons. The way they've been playing lately, they might be in line to make it three in a row. With this win, their 13th in 14 games, they moved to within a half-game of Denver (40-22) for first place, while sliding into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference.

"Unbelievable. One of the things that we've been talking abolut is that we believe in each other," Jazz forward Carlos Boozer said. "You can hear the excitement in the back of the room. We're so excited at the way we're playhing right now. ... It's great to win 10 in a row."

Early on, extending the winning streak didn't seem likely. They fell behind by as many as 19 in the first half, their typically explosive offense out of sync and seemingly unable to hit a jumper. But the Jazz finally began to snap out of it late in the second quarter, closing the frame on a 9-0 run.

"To me, I was embarrassed the way we played the first half," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.

After the break, they had apparently shaken off whatever was bothering them through the first two quarters - and needless to say, it was Deron Williams leading the charge. The star point guard registered double-digit assists for the 11th straight game, finishing the contest with 25 points and 11 assists.

"I think we closed the first half with a lot of energy, a lot of intensity," Jazz guard Ronnie Brewer said. "We just wanted to have that same focus to start the second half. I think we did that. We came out with a huge run, got some defensive stops, executed our offense and that's how we got back in the game."

Utah came out significantly more aggressive in the second half after an unusually soft approach early on. The team got to the foul line on six possessions over the first five minutes of the third. Williams, the maestro, brilliantly pulled the strings, threading the needle under the basket over and over again and attacking the basket himself with increasing regularity.

"(The Jazz) came out in the third quarter, they (referees) started blowing the whistle," Denver guard J.R. Smith said. "(The Jazz) got every call, they got to the free-throw line. That's what opened it up and then the fans got behind them. And it's tough to beat them when their fans are going nuts here."

With 3 1/2 minutes left in the third, he buried two free throws, then answered Linas Kleiza's dunk with a nifty runner in the lane to put Utah on top by one. After Denver pulled back ahead by two, Williams took the lead again, crossing over Carmelo Anthony and pulling up for a clutch 20-footer to draw the Jazz even.

With two seconds left in the quarter, he barreled inside and kicked out to C.J. Miles, who buried his second 3-pointer in a row to open up a four-point advantage.

"First half, we just looked a step slow. We didn't have any energy, any intensity. Didn't execute hard. Didn't defend, gave up too many layups and offensive rebounds," Williams said. "Second half, we came out a lot more physical and played harder on defense and got some stops which kind of jump-started us and got us going on offense as well."

He refused to let his foot off the gas down the stretch, dishing out five assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Jazz pulled away.