SALT LAKE CITY — Good news for the Jazz is pretty much everything they did Friday night at sold-out EnergySolutions Arena, save for point guard Deron Williams bruising his left elbow in the final few seconds.
Utah beat Denver 112-104 in Game 6 of their first-round NBA playoff matchup with the Denver Nuggets, taking the best-of-seven series 4-2 to advance to the Western Conference semifinals for the third time in four years.
A second-round opponent — the defending NBA-champion and West's top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers — that has eliminated the Jazz from each of past two postseasons.
"Third time's a charm, right?" Williams asked.
It certainly could be, if the Jazz's luck against a Nuggets team that beat them in 3-of-4 meetings during the regular season is any indication.
"We just have a lot of fight in us, you know?" Williams said.
"We didn't listen to what everyone was saying outside of our locker room," he added. "We thought we could beat this team. We struggled against them in the regular season, but we just had confidence."
The Jazz displayed just that while getting contributions all around Friday, from undrafted rookie Wesley Matthews' team-high 23 points to double-doubles from Carlos Boozer (22 points and a game-high 20 rebounds) and Williams (14 points and a game-high 10 assists).
Moreover, Utah got double-figure scoring from subs Paul Millsap (21 points), Ronnie Price (12) and Kyle Korver (10) — critical contributions from a bench that struggled in Wednesday's Game 5 loss.
"Amazing, man. Amazing," Matthews said of the backups. "We don't win this game without them."
"Everybody played great," Boozer added. "That's the mark of our team — we've had guys step up like that all season when we've had guys out."
Except for Williams' late injury, then, much really was grand for Utah.
The bad news for the Jazz beyond all that good, though, may be who awaits. That would be Kobe Bryant and Lakers, who closed out on Oklahoma City on Friday.
Game 1 in that series comes Sunday at the Staples Center.
"I guarantee you we'll be ready for it," Millsap said. "We've just got to keep our focus."
Before pondering and perhaps even fretting over what is to come, however, the Jazz have every right to bask in what just was.
Seeded No. 5 in the West and supposed underdogs against the No. 4 and Northwest Division-champion Nuggets, Utah — even without injured starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko, and even after starting center Mehmet Okur ruptured his Achilles tendon in the series' first game — took Game 2 in Denver and held court from there.
Denver did hang with the Jazz for three quarters and more Friday, but Utah — pounding it inside down the stretch against a Nuggets club without injured starting center Nene — pulled away in the latter half of the fourth.
"We were just trying to go at the rim," Millsap said. "Deron (Williams) did a great job of feeding us down low, and the interior passing was great."
Millsap broke a 95-95 tie with a Williams-delivered layup and the free throw that followed with six minutes and 22 seconds left.
Less than two minutes later, Matthews capped an 11-0 run with two free throws, making it 106-95.
Denver, which crumbled with fourth-quarter technicals on Kenyon Martin and Chauncey Billups and a key traveling call on Carmelo Anthony, never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
The Nuggets got a game-high 30 points from Billups, but only 20 with 6-for-22 field shooting from scoring star Anthony.
"I just tried to make everything difficult on him," said Matthews, who spent part of the game on Anthony.
"I just tried to make his shots tough and make him work for everything," added C.J. Miles, who spent the rest. "I just tried to be in his way, keep my body on him."
The Jazz led by as many as 15 points with 4:35 left in the first half, but the Nuggets rallied with a 17-4 run before the break to go into the third down two at 56-54.
Swingman Joey Graham — seldom-used in the series before Friday — had 19 reserve-role points in the first half alone, including a second-quarter stretch in which he scored 11 straight Denver points and 16-of-18 for the Nuggets.
Utah did go into the fourth up three at 83-80, and after Millsap's three-point play it led for good.
With that, the Jazz now turn to the Lakers with hope — no matter what may have happened against them in recent postseasons, or even during a just-concluded regular season in which L.A. won 3-of-4 meetings.
"What's in the past is in the past, you know?" Millsap said. "We lost to them in the past, but it's a different series, a different time of the year.
"We're a much-better team than what we were," he added, "and we look forward to it being different this time."
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