Adrian Dantley scored 32 points and reserve forward Jeff Wilkins scored 18 second-half points today as the Utah Jazz ran to a 131-123 playoff victory over the Denver Nuggets. Denver leads the best-of-seven NBA Western Conference semifinal series, 2-1.
"Jeff hurt us down the stretch and that's my fault," said Denver center Wayne Cooper. "He's the man who beat us. I take the blame for that. He was my man and I let him beat me."
With the Nuggets rallying in the final minutes, Wilkins helped Utah preserve the victory with two baskets and two free throws. Rickey Green put the game out of reach on a long jumper with 30 seconds left and two free throws eight seconds later, giving Utah a 129-123 advantage.
Despite the victory, Utah Coach Frank Layden said he believes Denver will win the series. "We have to win three out of the next four," Layden said. "Personally, I think it's impossible."
Green and Griffith each finished with 24 points. Griffith, who suffered a serious scoring slump in the first two games, made three of four three-point shots.
Calvin Natt paced the Nuggets with 30 points, while Alex English had 26. Mike Evans had 19 points, including three three-pointers.
The Jazz got 16 offensive rebounds and outrebounded Denver for the first time in the series, 63-50. Utah's Thurl Bailey had 14 rebounds. "The offensive boards probably were the big difference," Dantley said.
Utah also had a big advantage at the foul line, making 38 of 48 free throws to Denver's 20 of 30.
Wilkins' hook shot with 5:44 left gave Utah the lead to stay at 112-110. Utah's lead grew to 121-114 with three minutes left, but the Nuggets scored the next six points to force a Utah timeout.
After the timeout, the Jazz outscored the Nuggets by 10-3, intercepting three passes in the final minute to stay ahead.
With 28 seconds left and Utah leading by 127-123, Wilkins made a key steal that set up Green's two free throws.
"We kept throwing it away and screwing up," Denver Coach Doug Moe said. "I felt we were in good shape at the end of the third quarter. But it doesn't matter what kind of shape a team is in when it keeps making turnovers.