Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — From balanced scoring to early dominance inside to efficient offensive execution evidenced by 27 assists and 47 percent field shooting, things couldn't go much more right for the Jazz than they did Friday night.
Utah easily handled Denver 105-93 at sold-out EnergySolutions Arena in Game 3 of their first-round NBA Western Conference playoff matchup, taking a 2-1 lead over the reeling Nuggets in the best-of-seven series that continues Sunday night at home.
"We always had confidence in ourselves," said point guard Deron Williams, whose Jazz started the series by losing Game 1 — and starting center Mehmet Okur to injury — at Denver.
"Just because people were saying we weren't going to win the series — we don't care," Williams added. "We know what we can do as a team. As long as we stay together in our locker room, and come and play like we're capable of, we'll be fine."
Backup power forward Paul Millsap led the way with a 22-point and 19-rebound double-double for the Jazz, who also got a team-high 22 points and game-high 10 assists from Williams, 18 points by Carlos Boozer, 14 from rookie Wesley Matthews, 10 by C.J. Miles and nine from fill-in center Kyrylo Fesenko.
"We did a good job of moving the ball," Boozer said. "We executed, we tried to set good screens and we believed in each other that when you get a shot you're going to knock it down.
"Even when they don't go down," added Boozer, who in the first quarter was scoreless despite five field attempts, "we believe in each other."
The West's No. 5 seed Jazz blew open a four-point game with a 32-20 third quarter, heading into the fourth up at 84-68.
By the time Williams followed a banked-in 3-pointer with a fastbreak layup and a jumper, Utah was ahead by a comfy 22 with seven minutes and 57 seconds to go.
A Miles free throw gave coach Jerry Sloan's club its largest lead of the game, 100-77, with 6:04 left.
"We ran the floor, got some layups, some defensive stops letting us get out on the break. It was just spread out," Miles said. "Everybody was involved. Wesley (Matthews) did a great job getting in the game, being aggressive and being able to make shots. And Deron (Williams) was Deron, Boozer did his thing on the inside.
"It was just there," Miles added. "Guys were moving, finding open shots, and we passed the ball well as a team."
Utah hit almost four percent better than Denver's 43.1 percent from the floor, with assists coming on all but 12 of the Jazz's 39 field goals.
"You can't do it unless you're willing to make the pass," Sloan said, "and I think our guys were willing to make the pass to someone open.
"It seems to be a lot more fun to play that way," he added, "than one guy doing all the shooting."
The fourth-seeded Nuggets did jump to an early 11-point lead at 27-16, but the Jazz used a 15-2 run late in the first quarter and early in the second to go up 31-29.
Six straight Utah points during the run came from Millsap, who finished the opening half with 18 points on 9-for-9 field shooting and eight boards in 18 minutes.
"He carried us in the first half," Williams said of Millsap, who wound up 11-for-14. "He was just unstoppable."
Denver did briefly go back ahead, but the Jazz used two Millsap buckets and one from Boozer to go into the break up 52-48.
"(Millsap) did everything," Miles said. "He scored every single way he could — down in the low block, offensive rebounds, fadeaways, hook shots. He got to the free-throw line."
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