Jazz let Game 3 slip through their fingers
As amazing a finish as Saturday night's game offered, the ending couldn't have proven more agonizing for the Jazz, now facing a historically insurmountable 3-0 deficit to the Lakers after three losses decided by all of 14 points in this Western Conference semifinal series.
The Jazz's season was left on life support after a 111-110 loss at EnergySolutions Arena, with Deron Williams missing a potential winning jumper over Ron Artest with 1.8 seconds left and Wesley Matthews' Cinderella tip-in at the buzzer bouncing away.
As much of a stand as they've tried to make against the defending champions -- falling 104-99 in Game 1 and 111-103 in Game 2 -- the Jazz are left with a 3-0 deficit from which no team in NBA history has come back to win a series.
"It's a tough loss, period," Williams said. "We again were in the game, we had a chance to win the game. Just things keep going the other way."
"I thought we played well enough to win the game," Carlos Boozer added. "A couple of bounces here, a couple of bounces there and we do. We just didn't get the bounce we needed tonight."
The Jazz will host Game 4 on Monday night with their season in danger of coming to an end with the first four-game playoff sweep in franchise history. The Jazz were swept 3-0 by Golden State in the 1989 first round.
"We had our backs to the wall to play these guys to begin with because they're a terrific team," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.
The cruelest blow might have been former Jazz guard Derek Fisher's 3-pointer with 28.6 seconds left, giving the Lakers a 109-108 lead. The Jazz released Fisher from his contract in 2007 after Fisher's infant daughter was stricken with a rare form of eye cancer.
Fisher sought a team in a city that could offer better treatment options for his daughter. He returned to the Lakers, won his fourth championship last year and now has pushed the Lakers to the brink of eliminating the Jazz for a third consecutive year.
"He played for us and was a great competitor and a big loss for our team when he left, but that's life," Sloan said. "He gave us toughness and he made a lot of shots like that for us."
The Jazz led by as many as five points in the fourth quarter before stumbling at the finish. Boozer had 14 points and 14 rebounds but missed two free throws with 4:10 remaining and fumbled a sure basket out of bounds with 2:35 to play.
In the final seconds, after Matthews missed a 3-pointer looking to answer Fisher's, Boozer grabbed the rebound under the basket but had his follow-up contested by Pau Gasol with no foul called. Boozer protested to referee Dick Bavetta to no avail.
The Jazz took a 105-103 lead as Kyle Korver buried a 3-pointer with 1:23 left. Korver scored a playoff career-high 23 points in 24 minutes off the bench, hitting 9 of 10 shots overall (5 of 6 in the fourth quarter) and five 3-pointers.
Matthews went to the foul line with 1:06 left and the chance to put the Jazz ahead by four, but split his free throws. Kobe Bryant capitalized with a tying 3-pointer on the way to finishing with 35 points on 13-for-24 shooting.
Bryant was the only Lakers player to score in the first eight-plus minutes of the game, helping his team reach halftime trailing just 54-50 and now can savor his third playoff victory in Utah in as many years.
Artest, meanwhile, made just 1 of 10 3-pointers in Games 1 and 2, but connected on four almost improbably in the second half Saturday. He finished with 20 points -- 18 in the second half -- while the Lakers hit nine 3-pointers over the final two quarters.
Even so, the Lakers struggled to inbound the ball late and nearly gave away the game as Artest looked to Fisher only to have his pass end up in Korver's hands as Matthews rode Fisher to the ground with no foul called.
The Jazz called timeout with 4.4 seconds remaining and looked to Williams for the final shot. Williams crossed over Artest and pulled up for a 23-footer on his patented game-winner but couldn't connect.
"I wanted to get it a little deeper, but when I crossed over I saw Ron kind of stumbled," Williams said. "If I would have took another dribble or two, he would have been able to recover. I had a wide open look, I just missed it."
Matthews came flying in for the tip but had the ball dance off the rim. The undrafted rookie from Marquette came inches away from the storybook ending.
"The ball went right when it should have went left," Matthews said, adding, "I felt like I got enough hand on it to put enough touch to make it go in no matter what it hit. It wasn't with us today."
Andrei Kirilenko returned from his strained left calf to finish with eight points and six rebounds in 17 minutes, but the highs of the Jazz's shorthanded victory over Denver in the first round in these playoffs have been replaced by dejection against the Lakers.
"We played well in the Denver series; we haven't played as well as we'd like to as a whole this series," Williams said. "I thought the reason we won that series was because we were getting contributions from everybody every night.
"And this series, it's been Booz one night, then me one night. We all have to step up and I don't think we've done that so far."
IN SHORT » The Jazz couldn't have come closer to beating the Lakers in Game 3, yet somehow came up short again, leaving them trailing 3-0 in the series.
KEY MOMENT » Deron Williams missed a potential game-winning jumper and Wesley Matthews missed a follow-up tip at the buzzer.
Kyle on fire » Korver 'was huge' in scoring 23 points in Game 3. > C2
Changing it up » When Jazz buckle down in post, L.A. takes it outside. > C2