The dominant religion in Utah? The Jazz.
I have to think that not many people, including hard-core Jazz fans, would have put the Jazz up 3-1 in this series. Even if we had AK and Memo, with the Nuggets having home-court advantage and having owned the season series, we were looking at Denver being favored to win in 6 or 7.
Losing Kirilenko and Okur seems to have had the same effect of losing one of your senses in that the others become a bit more sharpened. We've seen the rest of the team come together to play some of the most focused ball we've seen this season.
The offense has always been there against the Nuggets, both in the regular and post season. After giving up 57% to Denver in game 1, the Jazz have held the Nuggets to 46, 43, and 44% over the last three games. This comes against one of the best offenses in the league and being short AK.
Carmelo has been getting his points but the Nuggets haven't had a consistent second or third scorer over these last 3 games. Nene and Martin had 18 & 15 in game 2 while Billups had 17, but in game three it was just Billups that had double-digit scoring with 25.
Last night Melo had another huge night with 39 points and did get four other players in double-digits, but they were a combined 16/39 (41%) from the field and 2/9 from three. All of those misses gave the Nuggets a lot of offensive rebounds (18) and helped them get back into the game late.
I'm going to give the Nuggets a lot of credit for fighting back in this game. From their body language the past couple of games, I though that once the Jazz pushed the lead to 20, they were going to roll over. Instead, they, well, mainly Carmelo, fought back and got the lead down to just 7 a couple of times and had a shot and cutting it more.
He came out on both ends and tried to set the tempo for the game. This match-up was a little reminiscent of the Houston series a couple of years back but Melo is so far ahead of McGrady. Melo did his best impersonation of McGrady in the post-game interview. When asked if he felt he could have done anything more, he replied, "I try. I try." In this case though it was a lot more sincere. His quote of the night was this, "Fesenko, I mean Fesenko, Fesenko, Fesenko."
That just goes to show what kind of contributions we've been getting from the entire team in this series. The last person you want on the line late is Fess. But when Millsap has fouled out and you already don't have Okur, you don't have a choice. He nailed two free throws late when he had been lucky to get his previous attempts anywhere near the basket. When that happens, you just know that it's not going to be your night as a Nugget fan.
The Jazz are really only playing 7 players right now and one of the keys to these three wins has been that everyone is contributing.
Deron Williams, He's having probably the best playoff series of his career. He's putting up 27 & 12 and a PER of over 28. Let's hope that next season he continues to take it to his defender as much as he has in this series. He's getting a ridiculous 15 FTAs a game. You can't keep that up over a full season but he seems to have a had a mind shift in how he's going to attack the defense. If he's not getting a foul and a trip to the line, he's drawing defenders and getting assists.
I think his defense has been great on his counterpart as well whether it's been on Afflalo, Billups, or even Anthony. That's what your stars are suppose to do and that's to get it done on both ends and to pick up the rest of your teammates. He has played as well as anyone else in the playoffs.
Carlos Boozer, Game 3 was Millsap's night and last night it was Boozer's turn. 31 & 13 to go along with 5 assists and 2, yes 2, blocked shots. I thought he had more than the 3 turnovers credited to him though. He was just a beat though offensively
Of course he still had a couple of WTH plays with some careless passes and fouls when he had no shot at stopping the player. You don't expect a flawless game from Booze but either foul hard or let the guy score.
Wesley Matthews, What more can you say about this kid? The wide-open botched dunk can slide when you're playing as well as he is. He's one of the most complete players on the team. He had a nice move to get around Carmelo for a baseline layup. He can finish at the rim. He's got an outside shot. His defense is tenacious. He put up 18 & 5 along with 2 assists and 0 turnovers.
Fesenko, Some of the worst FT shooting I've seen. However, his two made FTs late in the fourth just might have been the play of the game. The Nuggets were keeping it semi-close late when Fess got hammered with just a little over two minutes to go. Those two free throws gave the Jazz a 111-100 lead. Why were they big? Because on the next possession, Anthony came down and nailed a three. Had he missed those, we would have had just a five-point game
He still has many facets to improve upon but with his play in this series, I don't know how Sloan can't play him more next season.
CJ Miles, Take away his 1-7 shooting from the arc and he was 7-8 on the night. He was in love with the three ball even though he didn't get a valentine in return. There was a spot when he was feeling it and you just knew that he was going to start launching off-balance threes. A few of those were wide open as well. I know shooters gotta shoot but you also gotta know when to hold them, know when to drive the lane, know when to pass. You never count your points when you're playing on the hardwood, there'll be time enough for countin', when the game is done.
Paul Millsap, He was a ways off his 20 & 19 from game three but still had a solid night with 12 & 5 in just 22 minutes. He of course was limited in playing time because of foul trouble. I seriously don't know what he has to do to get out of the refs' doghouse. Theirs seems like it's a much deeper one that even Sloan's.
Ronnie Price, He didn't play much but there's he gives this team a little something extra when he's on the court. He had one block which could have been three. One was taken away when Lawson drove and got swatted (again) because they called a foul on Millsap. The other was when he chased down Carmelo on a fast break and swatted Melo from the front after he slowed up. He got a lot of ball but was hard enough that it was going to look like a foul anyway.
So here we are, up 3 games to 1, and the Jazz have outplayed the Nuggets for almost the entire series. The Jazz had a poor fourth quarter in game 1 and a couple of patches in the last two games but behind Deron they've been dominant. Sloan has out-coached Dantley and it looks like all AD can do is call timeouts and trap. They haven't done anything meaningful to slow down the Jazz on offense and can't find the right combination on offense.
If you've questioned the heart of the Jazz before, and it was probably with good reason, you can't say that for this series. This is the toughest and smartest ball they've played this season. It's not easy winning three in a row against the same team. For them to do that, everything has to be clicking. Players are in their well-defined roles and excelling.