JAZZ: Utah falls behind 2-0 in series
HOUSTON - Carlos Boozer did everything he could.
Coming off a miserable playoff debut, he scored a career-high 41 points for the Jazz in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets on Monday night. He drove hard to the basket, making dunks and layups. He hit his outside jump shots. He even threw in a dozen rebounds and six assists, for good measure.
"I just took it upon myself," he said.
But in the end, it was not enough to prevent the Jazz from losing 98-90 in front of a sellout crowd of 18,206 fans at the Toyota Center and falling into a hole from which they are almost certain not to recover.
Having lost the first two games of the series, the Jazz head into Game 3 at EnergySolutions Arena on Thursday night knowing that only 11 teams in NBA history have recovered from a 2-0 deficit to win a seven-game playoff series.
And the prospect for the Jazz does not look any more promising, considering that Houston's Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming continue to bury them.
The Jazz did a much better job defending them in Game 2 than they did in Game 1 - the superstar duo made just 18 of 53 shots - but McGrady and Yao still combined to score 58 points, mostly by getting to the free-throw line. The Rockets made 34 of 38 foul shots, leaving the Jazz discouraged at having lost two games in which they held the Rockets to less than 40 percent shooting.
"It was a couple of things," the Jazz's Deron Williams said. "One of them, I can't talk about" - meaning the officiating.
While Boozer and the Jazz managed to draw the 7-foot-6 Yao away from the basket and drive the lane more than in Game 1, they were able to make only 13 of 17 free throws. The Rockets, on the other hand, made 16 of 18 in the fourth quarter alone.
"That is one of the things that hurt us," coach Jerry Sloan said. "We're trying to stay in the ballgame and they are going to the free-throw line a great deal. That is difficult for us, and that will hurt any team, for that matter."
McGrady scored 31 points to lead the Rockets, and once again ignited the surge that won the game. He buried a three-pointer with Matt Harpring's hand in his face to give the Rockets a 65-62 lead late in the third quarter and ignite a 14-2 run from which the Jazz never recovered.
"We just had a couple of lapses," Williams said.
With Boozer taking over after making just 4 of 17 shots in the series opener - he scored 22 points in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter - the Jazz did climb back to within 84-80 late in the game.
"I felt like I let my team down in Game 1 by not making my shots," Boozer said. "It was on me tonight to come out and be more aggressive and give my team a lift. I need to give them a little bit more of a lift."
Or, have somebody else help.
Only Williams and Harpring joined Boozer in scoring in double figures, with 15 and 14 points, respectively, and forward Andrei Kirilenko was virtually invisible again, one day after his teary-eyed complaint that he wants more playing time. He did not score in 17 minutes, picking up five fouls and grabbing three rebounds.
And once the Jazz cut the lead to 84-80, McGrady and Yao made four straight free throws, and teammate Chuck Hayes finished tormenting the Jazz - he unexpectedly scored 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting, with 12 rebounds, seven of them offensive - by scoring a putback with 2:21 left that pushed the Rockets to safety.
"Our guys played our hearts out to try to get a win," Sloan said, "but we came up a little short."
Rockets 98, Jazz 90
IN SHORT - Carlos Boozer scores a career-high 41 points, but the Jazz still come up and short and lose 98-90 to the Houston Rockets in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series. KEY STAT - The Rockets make 34 of 38 free throws. KEY MOMENT - Houston's Tracy McGrady buries a three-pointer with Matt Harpring's hand in his face in a tie game late in the third quarter, igniting a 14-2 run from which the Jazz never recover.
Today New Jersey at Toronto, 5 p.m. Miami at Chicago, 6 p.m. L.A. Lakers at Phoenix, 8:30 p.m.