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Third’s a charm: Jazz even playoff series with dominating third quarter against Rockets

SHARE Third’s a charm: Jazz even playoff series with dominating third quarter against Rockets

Twice in this now all-even back-alley brawl, it was terrific trouble.

More terrifying than Yao Ming, much more problematic than Tracy McGrady.

It was the third quarter, and it was killing the Jazz.

Utah wrestled away the knife in Saturday night's Game 4 of its first-round NBA playoff series with Houston, however, using a career playoff-high 25 points from point guard Deron Williams to beat Yao's and McGrady's Rockets 98-85 at sold-out EnergySolutions Arena and even the best-of-seven Western Conference 4-5 seed showdown at 2-2.

That sends the Jazz back to Texas for Monday's Game 5 at the Toyota Center in Houston — where the Rockets control homecourt advantage — with the series essentially reduced to a best-of-three affair.

And it's largely because of what the Jazz did in the Williams-driven third, a 12-minute flurry of super shooting, impressive interior play and a confidence-oozing presence heretofore unseen from coach Jerry Sloan's club in the series.

"This was our Achilles heel in Houston — the third quarter," Jazz power forward Carlos Boozer said. "We always had a lead at halftime, and they came back and took it from us ... out there."

Houston indeed owned the third quarter in Games 1 and 2, outscoring Utah 26-11 in the first outing and by seven points in the second en route to an early 2-0 series lead. Even in Game 3, which the Jazz won 81-67 on Thursday, the Rockets managed only 10 third-period points — yet were outscored by just three points.

Game 4's third quarter, however, was all Jazz.

"That's something we focused on in practice," Boozer said, "and it transferred over."

Up by five points at halftime, Utah — which limited Rockets stars Yao and McGrady to just 20 and 18 points, respectively, marking their lowest combined scoring total of the series by a full dozen — extended its advantage to 21 heading into the final quarter by outscoring Houston 33-17 in the decisive stanza.

The Jazz shot a whopping 61.1 percent (11-of-18) from the field in the quarter, one which saw Williams hit 5-of-5 free throws and score 11 of his game-high 25.

"All-Star performance," Jazz backup power forward Paul Millsap said of second-season point Williams, who also carried the Jazz in the opening half by hitting 6-of-7 from the field to help send Utah into the break up 50-45.

"He attacked the hoop," Boozer added. "He always attacks the hoop, (but) today he got the foul calls (from referees) and he was hitting his free throws, hitting his jump shot. He was spectacular."

Utah also got seven points and four rebounds in the pullaway period from Boozer, who wound up with 15 points and 10 boards for his fourth straight series double-double; six points from previously slumping starting center Mehmet Okur, who finished with a career playoff-high-matching 16 points and reached double-digits for the first time in the series; and another three assists from starting shooting guard Derek Fisher, whose six assists were a personal series high.

The Jazz extended their lead steadily throughout the quarter, hitting 21 for the first of three times in the period's final minute when backup small forward Matt Harpring hit the second of two free throws to make it 78-57.

The final twist that ended whatever faint beat the Rockets may have had left, though, came when Fisher stole an errant Luther Head pass and advanced the ball up to backup shooting guard Gordan Giricek for a 3-pointer that fell before the end-of-quarter buzzer and sent Utah into the fourth up 83-62.

Utah never trailed by fewer than the final margin of 13 in the fourth quarter, which was rendered largely moot because of what happened in the third.

"Hopefully we learned our lesson," Harpring said.

"We had to come out and have strong second halves, strong third quarters," Williams added, "and I think we've done that."

NOTES: The Jazz's combined second- and third-quarter scoring total of 64 Saturday came up just three points shy of matching Houston's entire offensive output in Game 3 ... Utah led by as many as seven points on a few different occasions in the second quarter, the last time when Fisher — back from a shoulder sprain that briefly sent him to the locker room — scored inside to make it 48-41 with 1:16 left before halftime ... Jazz swingman C.J. Miles was inactive for the fourth time in as many series games, but in the fourth quarter ex-BYU center Rafael Araujo and rookie Ronnie Brewer both saw their first action of the series ... Rockets guard John Lucas III — son of 14-year NBA player and former San Antonio, Philadelphia and Cleveland head coach John Lucas — also made his series debut in Game 4 ... Fisher swatted a desperation halfcourt heave by Lucas about 12 rows in the stands at the end of Saturday's opening quarter.

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com