Jazz come within Miles of an upset
Jazz forward C.J. Miles launched a left-handed shot from the right wing, and this playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers was ready to go either direction.
The Lakers eventually took a 104-99 victory in Sunday's Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals at Staples Center. That pretty much gives away the ending of Miles' 3-point try. A shot that looked good and turned out bad summarized the Jazz's day, after they shockingly led by four points in the final four minutes.
This game was there for the taking, which was an achievement in itself for the Jazz after the way everything was unfolding through three quarters.
"We believe we can win," Deron Williams said afterward, with some evidence to support his faith. The Jazz could have, maybe even should have, won this thing. Before long, we'll all know whether their coming close should be viewed as encouraging, or if Game 1 forever will be remembered as the Jazz's missed opportunity to turn the series upside down.
My forecast calls for heavy regret.
Pick apart any play you like, after the Jazz led by four: any of their five straight empty possessions, mixed with Kobe Bryant's surge and Lamar Odom's ripping a rebound away from Carlos Boozer in a one-point game and scoring for L.A. in the last minute. "I thought I had it and then I didn't have it," Boozer said.
That wraps up the finish nicely, from a Jazz viewpoint. To me, Miles' miss is the shot that sticks out, maybe because there was so much time to process the possibilities while the ball sailed through the air.
"That felt the best out of any shot I've taken the last two weeks," Miles said.
The Jazz were trailing by one point in the last 100 seconds when an uncovered Miles rose and fired. If they'd taken a two-point lead at that moment, who knows how history may have changed?
As it is, there's an obvious inevitability to these proceedings. The Lakers, on their way to more important matters, are playing the Jazz in the playoffs for the third year in a row. For a team charting the 16 victories required to win an NBA title, this is another obligatory series -- scripted as wins Nos. 5-8, how ever long that may take them.
The count almost remained stuck at four, even after the Lakers led by eight points going to the fourth quarter. When Miles hit a floating shot in the lane and Wesley Matthews scored on a drive, the Jazz took a 93-89 lead with 4:10 left. They sensed the opportunity. "You could see the look in guys' faces," Miles said of his teammates, and the equal and opposite reaction was registering throughout the arena.
And then it all turned around. Miles, Paul Millsap, Williams and Boozer (blocked by Odom) missed shots on the Jazz's next four trips. Bryant made two free throws and a three-point play to send the Lakers ahead. Yet after Miles absorbed a charging foul from Derek Fisher and Odom missed a layup, Miles had his game-changing chance.
"It felt good," he said.
Miles missed by inches, hitting the inside of the rim. Gone was the Jazz's last hope of taking the lead -- in this game and, realistically, in this series.
"I was ready to kick myself," said Miles, who then managed to smile. "Can't make it if you don't shoot it, right?"
That's the lesson of Game 1, in one shot: This will be another Jazz-Lakers series characterized by the Jazz's good intentions, and bad outcomes.