JAZZ: Utah falters amid Spurs free-throw fest
Whistle after whistle after whistle shattered the Jazz's aura of invincibility at home in the NBA Western Conference finals Monday night.
The season isn't looking so good, either.
The Jazz are just one game from elimination now, having disintegrated amid a hail of technical fouls and ejections while watching the San Antonio Spurs shoot an astonishing 25 free throws in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 91-79 victory in Game 4 of the best-of-seven series at EnergySolutions Arena.
It was the first home loss for the Jazz in the playoffs this season, and the first ever to the Spurs at home in the postseason. The Jazz had won all nine previous playoff meetings in Utah, and now face the daunting prospect of having to snap an 18-game losing streak in San Antonio to keep their season alive.
"They kept their heads and made plays down the stretch, and we didn't," the Jazz's Deron Williams said. "They didn't worry about the officiating, and we did."
Williams nearly played the role of hero, scoring 27 points and handing out 10 assists after recovering from a stomach flu that kept him out of practice and in bed for most of two days.
But he and the Jazz crumbled in the fourth quarter, scoring just one point in a crucial three-minute span late in the game while the Spurs continued their parade to the free-throw line. The Spurs made 19 of their 25 fourth-quarter free throws, while the frustrated Jazz committed the last of their five technical fouls as the game got away from them.
"They showed their experience on us," Utah's Carlos Boozer said.
Coach Jerry Sloan was ejected with 2:34 remaining for arguing with referee Steve Javie - the sellout crowd of 19,911 several times broke into a "Javie Sucks!" chant, in protest of his foul calls against the Jazz. And guard Derek Fisher was ejected for his second technical with 52.9 seconds left after he had already fouled out by knocking down San Antonio's Manu Ginobili on a jumper.
"Seemed like the game maybe got out of control and there was a lot of emotion," Fisher said. "And maybe [the referees] just wanted to get control of it. And that's fine. We've seen it before."
The Spurs made 30 of 41 free throws in all, and played far more aggressively than they did in losing Game 3. Ginobili, in particular, destroyed the Jazz by scoring 22 points off the bench - 16 of them in the fourth quarter - and baiting Fisher into losing his head and committing some needless fouls.
"I don't know why he got upset," Ginobili said. "I can't recall doing anything for that to happen. But, you know, if that helps the team win and get a couple of easy free throws, I'm ready to do it."
The Jazz trailed by just one point heading into the fourth quarter, and by just four with 5 1/2 minutes left.
But settling for jump shot after jump shot - the Spurs held Williams to three points on 1-for-5 shooting in the fourth quarter - they scored just one point over the next three minutes. Meanwhile, the Spurs shot free throws almost every time down the floor, and led 85-73 by the time Sloan was ejected for arguing that Ginobili should have been called for pushing off Fisher on his way to a layup.
"When they're getting free throws, and we're taking jump shots, it's tough to close that gap," Boozer said.
Boozer scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Jazz, and forward Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur made modestly improved contributions with 16 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks between them.
But one game after it gave the Jazz a huge lift, the bench managed just nine points, and the Jazz scored just 17 points in the fourth quarter - six of them in the final 2:34, when the outcome was no longer in doubt.
"When we had a chance to get momentum on our side, we didn't have enough patience," Utah's Gordan Giricek said. "We were taking quick shots and we were missing the shots. It was our fault. We had our chances."
Now, the Jazz have only one more. "If we lose, we go home," Kirilenko said.