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Kurt Kragthorpe: Doom impending after another disappointing loss

Published May 1, 2007 2:53 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Jazz did not lose this playoff series Monday night, but they sure gave away the ending.

How many more foreshadowings do we need? Chapter VII, Saturday afternoon, right back here in the Toyota Center, will conclude with the Jazz lamenting more missed shots, wasted opportunities and blown leads.

This best-of-seven series could turn into a best-of-nine, best-of-11, best-of-a-million-and-one or whatever, and the Jazz would find a way to come close, and that's all.

"We should have won the game," forward Matt Harpring was saying - again - in the losing locker room after Houston's 96-92 victory in Game 5.

The Jazz would certainly love to replay the last 39 seconds: the Mehmet Okur miss from the left wing, the Harpring miss from left of the lane, the Derek Fisher charging foul. We'll cover that, momentarily. Yet the real tale of this game was told at the bottom of the crumpled stat sheet floating above Harpring's feet in an ice-filled bucket.

Rockets 22, Jazz 21. That second-quarter scoring total disgusted Harpring more than anything.

After seven minutes of the quarter, the Rockets were reeling, having scored six points in the quarter and showing the scars of their two dreadful performances in Salt Lake City that could have - should have, really - altered this series for good. The Jazz held a 37-27 lead, and Carlos Boozer took a quality shot in the lane. He missed, the Rockets rebounded, and they scored on their next seven possessions to cut the Jazz's halftime lead to one point.

Deep into the second quarters of three games in Houston, the Jazz have led by nine, seven and 10 points. They're 0-for-3, ultimately. Anybody still think home-court advantage is no big deal?

Of course, the Jazz did not lose this game right then. That came later, after a terrific third quarter when something resembling basketball was introduced into the series. It became the Jazz's precision vs. the Rockets' creativity, and it was good stuff.

Houston took over in the fourth quarter, eventually owning a seven-point lead and the ball with three minutes left. Amazingly, the Jazz got within one, beginning the closing sequence.

Okur missed a three-pointer, from the exact spot on the left wing that made him an All-Star. "You know what they say: 'It's a lucky miss,' " he said.

Do they really say that? Anyway, Andrei Kirilenko grabbed the rebound, continuing his stunning second-half contribution. Here's where it gets weird: Harpring was convinced that his 16-foot attempt, coming after he twisted toward the hoop while taking a pass, was necessary to beat the 24-second clock.

"It was a busted play . . . five, four, three, two, one on the shot clock," he said. "I had to launch."

But no, 10 seconds remained on the shot clock after the reset. Then came another play to replay. After Houston's Rafer Alston made one of two free throws, Derek Fisher decided to drive into the lane. Fisher will forever believe that Chuck Hayes was not set when he started his shooting motion, but the call went against him.

So now what? The disappointment of this loss might carry over to Thursday's Game 6, to the point where there's no need for Game 7. That's unlikely, though. That would not leave the Jazz with quite enough regrets to last the summer.

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* KURT KRAGTHORPE can be reached at kkragthorpe@sltrib.com. To write a letter about this or any sports topic, send an e-mail to sportseditor@sltrib.com.