On the ropes: Utah Jazz lose 111-104 in L.A.
LOS ANGELES - Judging from how long Jerry Sloan stared at the referees after the final horn Wednesday night, the Jazz felt as if the game they came to Staples Center to steal in the Western Conference semifinals instead was stolen from them.
For all the talk about backs - Kobe Bryant's, in particular - before Game 5, the biggest question after the Lakers' 111-104 victory was whether Pau Gasol shoved Mehmet Okur in his back as he grabbed an offensive rebound and scored with 20.5 seconds left.
Had the whistle blown one way, Okur would have been shooting free throws at the other end with the chance to make it a one-point game. Instead, Gasol followed up Sasha Vujacic's missed three-pointer with a dunk to make it 107-102.
"I think he did, but they didn't call it," Okur said of the shove. "It was tough, though. It was tough position and I had a good position for a rebound. He kind of pushed me, so I went forward and it was so loud I didn't hear anything."
"I was 90 feet away," Sloan added. "I don't know how I could call it. I haven't seen it on film. I don't know how he got open so good. That was the thing because Gasol was wide open. I don't know what happened. I just have to see it on film."
"Sometimes when you come down the stretch like that, it's who wants the ball more," Matt Harpring said. "We've got to get the ball. Those are just hustle plays. They're not going to call fouls like that. You've just got to find a way to come up with the ball."
Now the Jazz find themselves facing elimination, heading home trailing 3-2 in the series with Friday's Game 6 at EnergySolutions Arena. The Jazz never led in the game despite tying the score four times in the second half.
"We never could get over the hump to put a little more pressure on them," Sloan said. Okur called it a "winnable game" that the Jazz let slip.
The Jazz can take some comfort from having gone 41-5 at home this season and having been in this position last year against Houston in the first round. The Jazz suffered an agonizing 96-92 Game 5 loss to the Rockets but won the series in seven games.
"I think when we came here, they'd already won the championship," Sloan said. "I think that's a little bit intimidating in the beginning, but I think our guys started to realize if we play hard and not make too many mistakes, then we can compete against them."
Bryant finished with 26 points, seven assists and six rebounds but took only 10 shots - none in the fourth quarter - compared to 33 in Game 4. He did go 13-for-17 from the foul line, leaving Sloan upset with the 42-28 free-throw disparity in the game. Gasol had 21 points and six rebounds.
Deron Williams led the Jazz with 27 points and 10 assists. The Jazz committed 15 turnovers in the first half (19 for the game) and watched as Carlos Boozer struggled for a stretch in the fourth quarter.
Boozer missed two shots inside, one of which was blocked, was called for traveling, split two free throws and couldn't convert after Williams lobbed a pass to him in the lane. He did finish with 18 points and 12 rebounds but went 6-for-16.
"I thought we did a pretty good job coming down the stretch," Sloan said. "We just couldn't seem to score even though we got the basketball inside and I think that's one of the things that hurt us a little bit."
The Jazz trailed 101-96 with 2:43 left when Vujacic was called for a technical by Bob Delaney for jawing at Kyle Korver. After Korver converted the free throw, Williams nailed a three-pointer to make it a one-point game.
Vujacic missed a three-pointer but Gasol grabbed the first of two key late offensive rebounds. Bryant drove the lane and found Odom (22 points, 11 rebounds) for a dunk. Okur then followed up a Williams miss to make it 103-102 with 1:18 remaining.
At the other end, Gasol spun for a 5-footer to put the Lakers back up by three. Okur missed a potential tying three-pointer with 45.9 seconds to play. Gasol then followed up Vujacic's missed three-pointer with 20.5 seconds remaining to make it 107-102.
After 72 hours of concern about his back, Bryant knocked down a three-pointer on the game's first possession and cut for a 14-footer to score the Lakers' first five points of the night. Bryant had nine points in the first quarter and 13 at halftime.
Bryant battled back spasms throughout Sunday's Game 4 and hit just 13 of 33 shots for the afternoon.
He sat out practice Monday and Tuesday, receiving round-the-clock treatment, but his teammates were largely unconcerned.
"Whenever he's hurt like this, he's going to compete against himself, which sometimes can be an incredible thing to watch," Odom said at the pregame shootaround. "I expect him to come out really aggressive tonight."
* IN SHORT: The Jazz go into the fourth quarter tied but can't steal the game they need on the road in this series.
* KEY MOMENT: Lakers center Pau Gasol grabs the rebound after Sasha Vujacic's missed three-pointer from the corner and throws down a dunk with 20.5 seconds remaining.
* KEY STAT: The Jazz drop to 0-5 this season at Staples Center and 3-17 all-time against the Lakers in the building.