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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Utah's Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer confer as the Utah Jazz defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 104-99.

There were no Hollywood-style stars in the crowd, unless you count a certain 17-year-old Idol who sure can belt out an anthem.

There was no foul trouble, at least not for All-Star Carlos Boozer.

There was no MVP performance from Kobe Bryant in the first half, though he sure did make things interesting in the second.

And after the Jazz were done beating the Los Angeles Lakers 104-99 Friday night in Game 3 of their NBA Western Conference playoff semifinal series, making it 2-1 L.A. in the best-of-seven affair, there was no doubt from Deron Williams about where Utah stands now.

"We got that first one," the Jazz point guard said after scoring 18 points and dishing a game-high 12 assists — despite badly bruising his right hand and wrist in the opening half. "Now we know we can beat this team."

For that, the Jazz largely have Carlos Boozer — and some ramped-up defense on Bryant — to thank.

Boozer, much-maligned prior to Friday after failing to score more than 20 points in any of the Jazz's first eight games of the 2008 postseason, had a breakout game.

The starting power forward scored a team-high 27 points, pulled down a game-high 20 rebounds and ditched the anchor that weighed him down so drastically for the first two games of the series.

"You know, anytime you get in foul trouble, especially six minutes into a game — it's tough to get your confidence back," Williams said. "You're over there thinking about why you're not in, and what you could have done better. You have to sit there for the whole half, and then try to come back and try to get your game started in the second half.

"That's definitely tough for him to do," Williams added. "But tonight he just stayed out of foul trouble, was able to be in there, played 40 minutes, which was good for us, good for him."

Bad for the Lakers were the early struggles of Bryant, who after scoring 38 and 34 in the first two series games had just eight points and 1-of-5 field-goal shooting in the first half.

Still, he made the Jazz work — and sweat a bit — after the break, finishing 10-of-20 from the floor and with a game-high 34 points.

"He didn't have a great first half, obviously, with the numbers and everything," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "But you know who he is, and know what's gonna happen the second half.

"He was tremendous in the second half by taking the game over, and pretty much almost winning the ball game by himself — because that's who he is, and that's what he's displayed in his career," Sloan added of Bryant, who was crowned NBA MVP earlier in the week. "But fortunately we tried to play him. We made some mistakes, but at least we kept playing hard. When we made mistakes before, we kind of felt sorry for ourselves and had a little bit of a letdown."

Not this time.

Bryant scored 10 straight Lakers point during one stretch in the third quarter.

But the Jazz responded with 12 of their own during that same span, and Utah — which was up 52-43 at the break — took a 79-72 advantage into the fourth quarter.

The Lakers continued to whittle away at that lead, and Bryant came up with the play of the game in that final period.

Caught in a trap, he threw a pass off the backboard to himself and dunked it home to make it 92-86 Jazz.

"It was unbelievable," Williams said of the amazing play. "I think I looked at Jarron Collins (who was sitting on the bench) and was like, 'Wow.' And I was in the game. Sometimes you've just got give respect when respect's due. I think he meant to do it. I know he meant to do it."

And after Lakers guard Derek Fisher missed the first but hit the second of two free throws, it was down to three at 95-92.

Boozer, however, bailed out the Jazz coming out of a timeout.

He went on a personal 6-0 run, scoring inside, shooting an 11-footer over Lamar Odom with one second left on the shot clock and knocking down a 15-footer to make it 101-92 with one minute and 57 seconds to go.

"We expected that," Bryant said of Boozer's much-anticipated performance. "We expected him to come out and have a monster game."

He did, and that combined with a botched Laker jump-ball play with Utah up by four and 41.9 seconds remaining — Luke Walton got the ball off the tip as planned, but fumbled it away — sent the Jazz into Sunday's Game 3 at EnergySolutions Arena with newfound confidence.

"We felt all along we could beat this team," Williams said, "but now we know."


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