Andrei Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer may be Utah's highest-paid players, but Deron Williams carries the greatest impact. Down four early in the second quarter, Williams (right) sparked a 22-11 run that put Utah in control at the half. He pushed the tempo of a game that had slowed to Houston's preference, passed assertively to open players -- including a highlight-worthy, half-court bounce pass to Kyle Korver for a layup -- and slipped away from a defender or two for a few shots himself. He donned his red cape again early in the fourth quarter for a pair of key hoops after the Rockets had worked to cut a 16-point deficit to one (Williams also had back-to-back baskets late in the period, before missing two free throws in the final seconds that didn't prove to be costly). Williams helped ease the pressure of what could have been a very dicey Game 5 in Houston.
After struggling in Game 3, the Jazz's starting frontcourt of Boozer, Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur brought a renewed sense of purpose to Game 4. They moved aggressively toward the hoop, passed to each other and were quick with their hands on defense. More important, they helped save Utah from a damaging second-half meltdown. When the trio is playing in rhythm, there may not be a team in the league that can effectively match up, especially one relying heavily on two rookies -- forwards Luis Scola and Carl Landry -- and 41-year-old center Dikembe Mutombo.
Utah may have an advantage in talent, but not in grit. Facing a 56-40 deficit four minutes into the third quarter, the Rockets clawed their way back within 68-67 early in the fourth quarter. While Rafer Alston and Shane Battier essentially set the tone with some clutch shooting and quick hands on defense, everyone from Tracy McGrady to Landry pitched in, forcing the Jazz to call on Williams again to bail them out. Even in the closing moments, Battier and Alston refused to go quietly, stroking long three-pointers on back-to-back possessions before Utah salted the win away at the free-throw line.
It isn't often that a team can go 0-14 from three-point range and still win, but when your defense holds the opponent without a field goal for two separate stretches of more than five minutes each, that helps. So does limiting the Rockets to 36.7 percent shooting for the game and swatting eight of their shots. Maybe McGrady's fourth-quarter woes aren't all of his own doing? (Although attempting more than one field goal in the fourth may have been helpful in a game decided by four points.)
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