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Utah Jazz: Booz plays pivotal role down the stretch

SALT LAKE CITY — It took the majority of the game for it to happen, but by the time Utah polished off Denver on Saturday night, Carlos Boozer again looked like Carlos Boozer.

Boozer, back after missing three games with a moderately strained and slightly torn right calf muscle, made several key plays in the final minutes of Utah's 116-106 win. His strong finish featured a fight for a loose ball that resulted in a layup, a steal, two rebounds and a score on a putback.

Boozer recorded his 30th double-double of the season with 19 points and 13 rebounds. He shot 8-for-11 while dealing with some foul trouble.

"I felt great," Boozer said. "I think I'm going to continue to improve. My leg felt strong enough and it's going to get better and better."

That was the story of Boozer's night. His presence was enough early in the game. As it progressed, he got better and better.

The Jazz had a tough time shaking the Nuggets, who were playing without Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. With the Jazz leading by six with a little more than 2 minutes to go, Boozer made some game-changing plays.

After missing a layup, he fought for the rebound in the paint, recovered it and scored to put the Jazz up, 112-104. On the other end of the floor, he slapped the ball away from Kenyon Martin, Utah picked it the loose ball and the play resulted in two free throws by Wesley Matthews.

"I knew he was going to drive right," Boozer said of Martin. "That's his favorite thing to do when he faces you up. I got a little piece of the ball."

Boozer said his solid finish was a result of getting the ball in his hands. His 11 attempts were about two fewer shots than he usually takes in a game, and he didn't get to take one in the fourth quarter until there was 2:13 left in the game.

"I just got the ball," Boozer said. "Sometimes you look throughout the game and you just play and you know what you can do. When you get the rock, you get something to do with it. That's what happened for me."

Boozer's return sent Paul Millsap back to his reserve role. Interestingly, it didn't take long for the two players to share the floor. Mehmet Okur picked up two fouls less than 2 minutes into the game, and Millsap replaced him.

Boozer and Millsap combined to make their first 10 shots. Both, however, encountered foul trouble. The two power forwards had to go to the bench in the third quarter with four fouls. Millsap, who had 16 points and six rebounds, fouled out with 4:26 left in the game.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said Boozer "did OK" in his return.

"He's been out for a week or so and hasn't been able to practice every day with us," Sloan said. "He's been doing a lot of work on his own and he came prepared pretty good and that's the most important thing."

e-mail: aaragon@desnews.com