Short-handed Jazz fly past Sixers PHILADELPHIA ? From behind closed doors, screams and shouts were heard. And when they opened shortly after the Jazz's 112-90 win Friday night over the Philadelphia 76ers, it sounded like a frat party inside the visiting locker room at Wachovia Center here. Understandably so, too, as 4-5 Utah ? without starting point guard Deron Williams, who returned to Salt Lake City earlier Friday to be with an ailing daughter ? won despite starting two rookies and going most of the way with just seven players. "We just had a lot of fun tonight," forward Carlos Boozer said. Did they ever. All five starters scored in double figures ? topped by Boozer and his 24-point, 12-rebound double-double ? and so did Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap off the bench. Rookie point Eric Maynor, who opened in Williams' place because backup Ronnie Price was injured and out, had a double-double of his own, 13 points and 11 rebounds. And fellow rookie Wesley Matthews, like Maynor making his first NBA start, scored a season-high 16, including nine on 3-for-4 shooting from 3-point range. "The rookies were good. They played well for us," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "You know, in the absence of Deron Williams, you don't know what you're gonna get. "But our guys played, I thought, a terrific game ? tried to play together, and pass the ball to each other and made some nice plays. "Guys got open," he added. "They got easier baskets ? guys cutting to the basket, instead of holding it and holding it and holding it for jump shots." They ran, in other words, Sloan's offense as it's designed to be played, replace with layups galore. "We ran the system, we set screens, we shared the ball, we moved the ball. If somebody was open, we hit them," Boozer said. "We didn't wait for the assist pass. We just hit the guy that was open, and that makes the offense move crisper." Combine that with some decent defense, and it's no wonder Utah ? ahead at the break by 14 after scoring a season-high 64 first-half points ? led by double digits throughout the second half. The Jazz advantage stood at a game-high 26 when Kirilenko drained a trey try early in the fourth quarter, and it never dwindled under 14 after that. "We played really well as a team," said guard Ronnie Brewer, who had 14 points. "We had defensive stops, and on offense we executed. We did what's been working for so long. We got the ball inside. Boozer was working, Paul Millsap was working, Memo (Okur, who scored 15) played well in there. And we played from inside-out. We were knocking down shots, getting to the basket and getting to the free-throw line." "The main thing about this game," Boozer added after the Jazz outscored the 4-5 76ers 52-40 in the paint, "is we were so enthusiastic about our defense, so enthusiastic about sharing the ball. We had 32 assists, guys." They did, and all while seeming genuinely interested in doing it together. "When a guy like Deron Williams isn't here, you can't 'replace' him," Matthews said. "Everybody just has to step their game up, and make sure their focus isn't on offense, it's on defense. And that's we did." "The whole team, I thought, played well," added Sloan, whose club had lost three of its previous five games. "You know, we've been up and down a lot ? and it was nice to see them pull together and try to win the game." The Jazz didn't just win, though. They actually savored the process, while it was happening and afterward as well. "It's great just to see everybody happy in here, because we wanted to win. That was the main thing going out there: Just wanting to win," Maynor said after the locker room finally quieted. "It didn't matter who scored the points. You know, everybody got a piece of everything, and we defended as a team. We had fun out there playing." All of which was much-needed after what they've been through so far this season. "We've had games where we blew fourth-quarter leads by a lot. We got embarrassed at home a few times, struggled on the road," Brewer said. "So it hasn't been fun losing." And so now don't worry, the Jazz would suggest, heading into a visit Saturday night with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers that ends a four-game Eastern road trip ? one which started with Monday's narrow win at New York and included Wednesday's blowout loss at Boston. They're back to being happy. Really, they are. "They should be," Sloan said. "I don't think a lot of people expected them to win." e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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