Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
The chant started in the first quarter of Game 3 Thursday night, sounding kind of like: M-V-M-P-V-P-M-M-V!
But unlike the unison-challenged-but-very-audible 19,911 fans at EnergySolutions Arena, Deron Williams' game was in sync most of the night.
Until Carl Landry's fingertips got in the way, that is.
Houston's backup forward spoiled what had otherwise been a sweet night for Williams. Landry swatted away the Jazz point guard's last-second game-winning attempt, securing a 94-92 Houston victory that gave the Rockets some hope in this first-round series.
"With six seconds left, I tried to drive," Williams said, "and Carl Landry made a great play."
Landry's great play ruined what would have been a fitting touch to Williams' night. He racked up a double-double with 28 points and 12 assists in yet another stellar playoff showing against the Rockets, who cut into Utah's 2-1 series lead despite his effort and the home-court advantage.
"We've put ourselves in a pressure situation," Williams said. "I think the next game for us is a must-win."
After averaging 21 points in Utah's first two victories in Houston despite playing with a sore derriere, Williams carried the Jazz by scoring 21 points, hitting 6 of 9 shots and dishing out five assists in the first 24 minutes.
While teammates missed shot after shot, including layups and free throws, Williams came out on fire from about everywhere. He burst to the bucket for a layup, hit a mid-range jumper, nailed a couple of 3-pointers and then sank two free throws to put Utah up 17-16 with 3:27 left in the first quarter.
Williams is making an annual habit of playing well in the postseason against the Rockets. Last year, he had a breakout series against Houston in his first-ever playoff appearance, averaging 16.3 points, 8.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds in the Jazz's seven-game series victory. He's averaging 23.3 points and nine assists so far this series.
The Rockets, however, did a good job of containing him in the second half, when they doubled up on him.
"We got a little flustered," he said. "Things kind of broke down for us and we weren't able to get it into (Carlos Boozer) a lot of that fourth quarter and that's on me."
But Utah's playmaker showed his poise down the stretch after the Rockets ripped off a 10-point run to go ahead 93-86 with 1:42 left. With no signs of panic, Williams found Kyle Korver and Mehmet Okur open for 3-point shots on consecutive possessions to get the Jazz within one with 37.4 seconds remaining.
Williams then got the ball back in his hands at the top of the key with time running out after the initial play broke down. He then burst toward the bucket and floated up what would have been his exclamation point before Landry got in his way.
On the defensive end, Williams had his hands full with the quick Rafer Alston. The Rockets' starting point guard rejoined the team after missing the first two games in Houston with hamstring issues. While Williams went off for the Jazz, Alston gave the Rockets a much-needed offensive boost with 20 points, including four 3-pointers, and five assists."Skip (Alston) came in and did a great job for them and hit some big shots," Williams said. "Just a great team victory for them.
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