The Utah Jazz narrowly missed out on the third seed in the West in this playoffs, but they faltered at the end of the regular campaign, condemning themselves to sixth place.
Instead of facing a Portland team ravaged by injury, Utah would have to face the Denver Nuggets. And that’s no picnic.
Denver is regarded as one of the toughest teams in the league. The Nuggets feature Chauncey Billups, one of the best postseason players in recent NBA history, and Carmelo Anthony, one of the league’s best players overall. The Jazz knew they would also be down Andrei Kirilenko, their multitalented small forward who would have been responsible for containing Melo.
Then, another blow came in Game 1. Mehmet Okur, the team’s starting center, went down, hampering an already overmatched front court.
So the Nuggets took a decidedly uncompetitive Game 1, and many wrote off the Jazz as dead meat.
Then, something happened.
Something reminded the Jazz that they have one of the best point guard–power forward pairings in all of basketball today. Something reminded the Jazz than Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer can actually play this game.
In a nailbiting Game 2, the Jazz emerged victorious 114-111. The stars? You guessed it. Williams put up 33 points and 14 assists while Boozer posted 20 points and 15 boards. Williams has held on to the reins ever since.
In a less stressful Game 3, Williams backed his effort with a 24-and-10 double-double. In the next win, 24 and 13.
So the Nuggets are the ones panicking now. After nearly knocking off the eventual-champion Lakers last year, Denver is on the cusp of first-round elimination, thanks to D-Will.
And after only three solid postseason games, Williams has many thinking he has trumped Chris Paul is the league’s best floor general. To be truthful, the debate is more reasonable now than ever.
Williams’ postseason averages thus far of 26.8 points and 12 assists a contest are unmatched by a Jazz point guard since one of the greatest ever — John Stockton — put up 27.3 and 13.7 when he was 26 in 1989. That’s some good company.
Considering Utah’s immense success so far in spite of a depleted roster, it goes to show how helpful it is to have a good 1-guard running the show.
Let it be a lesson to the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks. Rajon Rondo and Jason Kidd need to be in charge of your offenses. Sure, the Celtics advanced against a weak Miami team. But the Mavericks are also on the brink of summer leisure as a result of their poorly executed offense. Let Kidd do the work; Dirk Nowitzki’s not alone out there.
For the Nuggets, it is critical to slow Williams down in tonight’s Game 5. Dantley just announced that he’s going to have Billups match up against Utah’s wonder tonight. Maybe a little championship seasoning can help Billups do what Deron’s other defensive assignments were useless in doing: exploiting the weaknesses of team’s wing positions rather than letting Williams and Boozer do the talking.