NBA • Point guard proves the catalyst in starting his second go-round in Utah.
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The last time the Jazz opened a season this impressively, point guard Mo Williams was the only healthy player who stayed on the bench all night.
Nine years later, it would be fair to say Williams accepted a bigger role in his return to the team. His job description Wednesday included being a co-captain, pregame spokesman, co-leading scorer and driving force of the Jazz's third-quarter surge in a 113-94 victory over Dallas at EnergySolutions Arena.
Not knowing if he would play or not in October 2003, "I couldn't sleep; I was nervous," Williams said. "It's the complete opposite now. I feel at home, I feel comfortable everything is all good now."
It sure turned out that way, although his start was less than promising.
Not long after delivering his brief speech to the crowd prior to tipoff, Williams found himself watching the game like most of the fans, only from a better seat. He picked up two quick fouls plus a technical foul in the initial 4:10.
In the first half, these guys looked like the same, old Jazz. They struggled to defend 3-pointers, while playing sloppily enough to let Dallas hang around, even with the Mavs missing Dirk Nowitzki and having played Tuesday in Los Angeles.
The third quarter was another story, and Williams was in the middle of it all. This became quite an adventurous night for him, while he eventually matched fellow newcomer Marvin Williams with 21 points.
"Those guys have been super all training camp, and it's going to transfer all season long," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin.
Mo Williams returned early in the second quarter in a motivated state, scoring 10 points in less than four minutes as the Jazz surged ahead.
Williams then remained stuck on 10 points until midway through the third quarter, while missing his first five shots of the period. The last two attempts were wide-open 3-pointers, with the Jazz trying to take the lead. The crowd was moaning with every miss, but the atmosphere soon would change dramatically.
So would the scoreboard. Williams broke a 74-74 tie by finally hitting a 3, then he added another after stealing the ball and taking a pass from Gordon Hayward.
Williams followed with a driving layup, and the Jazz suddenly were secure. By the end of the third quarter, the Jazz had outscored Dallas 37-13 to take a 92-76 lead. Williams had pushed his total to 19 points.
The earlier shooting struggles obviously did not shake him. "I told the guys, 'Those are good misses,' " he said. " 'When you hit the back rim, those are good misses on line, just a little bit hard.' But we stayed the course."
In 2003, the Jazz rallied to beat Portland to begin the franchise's first season in 18 years without John Stockton and Karl Malone. A second-round draft choice, Williams stayed on the bench that night as Carlos Arroyo played 42 minutes at point guard and led the Jazz with 18 points, while Andrei Kirilenko and Raja Bell remember him? added 16 each.
That '03 season became a case of overachievement for the Jazz, who went 42-40 and barely missed the playoffs. Williams eventually played enough to earn a free-agent offer from Milwaukee, beginning the NBA odyssey that brought him back to Utah.
He'll become a free agent again in July, but the look of things Wednesday, Williams is here to stay this time. For the guy who brought a Barack Obama mask to work on Halloween, another four years on the job sounds about right.