SALT LAKE CITY (Utah) • Deron Williams used to get a boost in Utah when Jazz fans roared every time he did something good on the court. On Monday, he thrived despite a chorus of boos from his old faithful.
Williams scored 23 points and Dirk Nowitzki dropped in 22 as the Dallas Mavericks clinched at least the seventh spot in the National Basketball Association Western Conference play-offs with a 101-92 win over the Utah Jazz.
"This game meant a lot to us," Williams said. "We knew it meant a lot to them as well, so coming in here we knew this was going to be like a play-off atmosphere. Essentially, it was a play-off game because there was so much at stake."
One team, the experienced Mavericks, looked like a grizzled old play-off team.
The other, the extremely young Jazz, looked like they were lost for much of the night.
"I think some days are diamonds and some days are stones. Tonight was no doubt a stone," said Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, who finished with 26 points, six rebounds and four assists. "Tough way to lose for us."
The Jazz's play-off hopes suffered a huge hit with the loss. They are now tied with Houston, who routed the Timberwolves 129-105 in Minnesota, with 40-41 records.
The Rockets own the tie-breaker over the Jazz and host Sacramento, who will not have DeMarcus Cousins or Rajon Rondo, tonight (tomorrow morning, Singapore time).
Utah travel to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers in Kobe Bryant's career finale that same night.
Houston can clinch a play-off spot with a win, while the Jazz need to beat the Lakers and have the Rockets lose.
Dallas is in for good and could even end up as sixth seed.
"Well, it's been a lot of work. It's been an amazing two weeks," said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle after his team won seven of their last eight to make the play-offs. "Our guys looked like they were down and out, and we all dug in."
In the first half, Williams looked like the All-Star who used to play for the Jazz. He scored 18 on 8-of-12 shooting to lift Dallas to a 50-46 lead at the break. He admitted the boos fired him up.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't. It got me going out there a little bit," he said. "Not only the booing, but the stuff that was being said when I was sitting on the bench, at dead balls, stuff like that."