So maybe Carlos Boozer hasn't left the building after all.

Has it really been that long since anyone saw the familiar old Boozer? Weeks, actually. Which makes it hard to know whether his 27-point, 20-rebound game Friday actually meant the end of his protracted slump.

Or was it just a temporary spike?

This much seems clear: He'll sleep better tonight.

"I hope so, yeah," agreed Boozer.

The Jazz closed to a 2-1 second-round playoff deficit Friday night with a 104-99 win over the Lakers. Cancel the black balloons. Hold off on the floral spray. They're not finished yet.

But that doesn't exactly mean bragging rights.

On the plus side of their ledger, they handed Los Angeles its first loss of the playoffs. Still, one dominating game in three weeks isn't exactly proof positive Boozer is all the way back. As though reminding fans exactly how long he's been gone, he missed two free throws with three seconds left. It wasn't life-and-death, but it wasn't a high-five, either.

The Jazz will take it. They've been trying to lurch through the playoffs with only half-a-Boozer. Which is better than none but not nearly as good as they've needed from their All-Star forward.

"Y'all have been waiting for a such big game out of me, and I have been waiting for it, too," he said.

That Boozer would be a star in Game 3 seemed only reasonable. After all, it was Utah kind of night. Following a week or so of Kobemania in Los Angeles, the Jazz apparently decided they'd heard enough.

Speaking of enough, how much more love can Utah give David Archuleta? The "American Idol" star, from Murray, grabbed nearly as much attention as the Jazz on Friday. That's hard to do during playoff time. He showed up to sing the national anthem. For those not interested in basketball, but terribly interested in who wins "Idol," this is how his performance went: He stepped onto the court to a loud roar. Cameras flashed as he laughed bashfully. After turning in a fine rendition of the anthem, he smiled bashfully again and left.

He had done his best.

The Jazz were going to have to produce their own stars after that.

Even without Archuleta, there was no shortage of story angles. First and foremost was the Case of the Missing Boozer.

Compounding the fact that he's been ricocheting shots off the walls for weeks was that he wasn't saying much. He was saying words but not providing any real information. Was it a sore back or all in his head? Personal problems or mechanical ones? He didn't say.

Yet inquiring minds wanted to know.

After Friday's game, he said he improved because he was "just trying to stop thinking so much out there."

One thing about Boozer: The man's stubborn. Not until after losing Game 2 to the Lakers was he even admitting he was in a slump. Everyone seemed to see the elephant in the room except him. That despite going for 20, 13, 15, 14, 19, 15, 15 and 10 in the playoffs.

Those are nice numbers for a third or fourth man.

For Boozer it's an A-level meltdown.

Which led to the plight of the Jazz. After falling behind 0-2 in the series, odds didn't look good. No team has ever come from an 0-3 deficit to win. Nobody. An 0-3 deficit is the NBA equivalent of an eviction notice.

As it turned out, the Jazz headed off near-certain disaster.

Almost as important, they rediscovered their top scorer. Boozer sank three straight shots in just over a minute to move Utah's lead from three to nine, late in the game.

The kind of game stars are supposed to have.

Now all he needs to do is figure out how get back to doing the same every night.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com