Utah Jazz: Fall apart in opener
Utah leads more most of game until 4th quarter collapse
Doug Pensinger, Getty Images
DENVER — The weather outside was frightful.
The Denver Nuggets inside in the fourth quarter, delightful.
So it went on the opening night of the 2009-10 NBA season for the Jazz, who fell 114-105 at snowy Denver despite leading for most of three quarters — and despite a 28-point, 13-assist double-double from point guard Deron Williams.
Last season's Western Conference-finalist Nuggets dominated down the stretch in a late-starting, ESPN-televised game at the sold-out Pepsi Center, outscoring Utah 32-25 and out-rebounding the Jazz 15-11 in the fourth quarter.
"They picked it up a little bit, got tougher — and we got a little softer, to make a long story short," Jerry Sloan said after the start of 22nd season as coach of the Jazz was spoiled. "I mean, you can't win if you're not gonna block people off the boards and get back and play some defense.
"They went around us about any time they wanted to."
The loss snapped a streak of six straight season-opening victories for the Jazz, whose starting lineup Wednesday — Williams at the point, Ronnie Brewer at shooting guard, Andrei Kirilenko at small forward, Carlos Boozer at power forward and Mehmet Okur at center — was the same as it was for their first-round postseason-ending Game 5 loss last April to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Denver's defining moment of Utah's disastrous fourth quarter: Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony missed a long jumper midway through the period, but he intercepted backup power forward Paul Millsap's outlet pass for Williams and proceeded to deliver a thunderous dunk over Millsap.
Anthony was fouled by Millsap on the play and hit the free throw that followed to put the Nuggets up 99-88 with six minutes and 17 seconds remaining.
Two-time NBA All-Star Boozer, meanwhile, finished just 3-of-14 from the field and with 12 points on an evening that started ominously for the Jazz.
"I had some good shots - just missed 'em," Boozer said. "They're shots I've been making my whole career."
Okur exited in the game's first minute after mildly spraining both his left ankle and left knee trying to take a charge from Nene, but he returned seven minutes later — with the ankle re-taped, and the knee sporting a neoprene sleeve — and finished the first half with 12 points on 5-for-6 field shooting.
The Jazz made good on their final five full possessions of the second quarter — a Brewer layup delivered by Kirilenko, two inside from Williams on a Boozer-fed turnaround after posting up Nuggets rookie backup point guard Ty Lawson, a Brewer layup and the free throw that followed after a pass from Williams, Williams' pull-up 3-pointer and two Boozer free throws — and went into the break up two at 56-54.
Anthony had the last bucket of the half, though, as he drove past Kirilenko and over Boozer for a layup with 4.6 seconds to go — part of his game-high 30 points on a night Anthony also delivered five assists and pulled down eight rebounds.
Utah was up by one late in the third quarter, but Williams caught 25-point scorer Chauncey Billups on the left elbow as the Nuggets point rose for a trey try with 0.4 seconds left in the period.
Billups made all three free throws that resulted, sending Denver into the fourth up 82-80.
"When he came down he pump-faked and I hit the ball," Williams said. "So when I hit it, I thought it was gonna come loose, so I put my hand down there, and soon as he did he just raised up.
"It was a bad foul, stupid mistake, something I usually don't do, but I got caught."
Williams had his double-double before the end of the final quarter, scoring 24 points with 10 assists through three periods.
But with Williams watching from the bench with three fouls at the start of the last quarter, the Nuggets began to pull away from the Jazz.
Denver scored the first nine points of the quarter to go up 91-80, part of a decisive 14-2 Nuggets run late in the third and early in the fourth.
"It tough," Williams said. "I went to the bench, it was 82-80; I came back in, it was (89-80) and we just never really could get anything going from there."
NOTES: Combo guard Ronnie Price, who missed the Jazz's last four preseason games with a strained hamstring, entered at shooting guard behind starter Brewer. Price also was first at the point, over rookie Eric Maynor, behind Williams. ... Boozer was 1-for-8 from the floor in the first half, when he only scored three points. ... Kirilenko caught an elbow in the mouth from a driving Anthony late in the third quarter, but he stayed in the game. ... All 11 healthy Jazz players appeared in Wednesday's game. ... Denver made its morning shootaround optional because of the area's inclement weather, and starting shooting guard Anthony Carter was the only Nugget to show. ... The Jazz play their home opener Friday night vs. the Los Angeles Clippers at EnergySolutions Arena.
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