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Kragthorpe: Utah's best chance at road win up in smoke

Published May 15, 2008 1:43 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

LOS ANGELES -- This was the Jazz's best shot, the game they will remember all summer.

Wednesday's Game 5 of their playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers will tease them, bother them, torture them every time they think of what they could have done under the bright lights of Staples Center, where they finally gave themselves a chance to win and just could not quite do it.

This will be the one that got away: Lakers 111, Jazz 104.

The Jazz played just well enough to end up disappointed.

"We can't be demoralized right now," said Andrei Kirilenko, looking ahead to Friday's Game 6 at EnergySolutions Arena, but that would

have to be the natural emotion coming out of L.A.

"It's frustrating," said Matt Harpring, extending an empty hand trying to grasp something, for the sake of illustration.

"I mean, we're right there - you can feel it, you can sense it, but it just comes down to a couple plays . . . hustle plays, a couple missed shots."

The Jazz never led during a night of constant climbing and battling. They were down by only a point after Mehmet Okur's rebound basket with 1:18 remaining, before it all crumbled for them.

Everything would have changed dramatically if they could have finished this thing off, but their hopes of winning Wednesday went away when Pau Gasol scored two inside baskets against Okur, before and after Okur's three-point miss from the left angle.

The Jazz's consolation is that this series suddenly looks an awful lot like their series with Houston last season, when Okur's miss kept them from completing a fourth-quarter rally in Game 5 but they rebounded to win the last two games.

Then again, repeating that comeback is asking a lot against the Lakers.

That's why this Game 5 will likely go into the books as their best opportunity for a series upset, and they wasted it - even with Deron Williams' 27-point game and even with four other double-figures scorers.

Following a slow start, after a first half of fumbles and stumbles, the Jazz found themselves in a tie game entering the fourth quarter. Everybody figured the Lakers would be vulnerable in Game 5, coming off two losses in Salt Lake City, and that theory proved true.

It had nothing to do with Kobe Bryant's sore back. It had everything to do with the Jazz's insistence on making this series a genuine competition - and their belief that they could actually win it.

Maybe they still can. They deserve one more chance Monday in Los Angeles, which they can earn with a Game 6 victory Friday at home.

It's just that this was a wonderful opportunity to take command, to put the top-seeded Lakers on the brink of elimination, and the Jazz could not take advantage of it.

It would barely be overstating things to say that this loss ultimately could mean the difference between a second-round exit and a trip to the NBA Finals.

The Jazz had every chance in the fourth period, when the calls and no-calls just did not go their way. Okur was convinced - and rightly so - that Gasol pushed him before grabbing a rebound and scoring for a five-point lead with 20 seconds left.

They also had shots that trickled off the rim, balls that bounced the wrong way, every time they needed something to happen in their favor.

Certainly, the Jazz have succeeded in getting the attention of the Lakers and their fans. There was a different buzz in the arena, a sense that the crowd realized this series was getting serious after the Lakers breezed through the first two games last week.

The Lakers' victory means that home teams are now 19-1 in this second round of the NBA playoffs, winning by an average of 13 points.

The trend offers considerable hope to the Jazz in their quest to win Friday and bring the series back to Los Angeles, but hardly suggests a different outcome than their first three visits have produced.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Kobe's crew

Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 26 points, but he did not attempt a shot in the fourth quarter, but his teammates carried the load for the Lakers down the stretch:

Fourth quarter FG-A FT-A Pts

Lamar Odom 3-4 1-1 7

Pau Gasol 3-4 0-0 6

Derek Fisher 0-2 5-6 5

Vlad Radmanovic 1-2 0-0 3

Jordan Farmar 1-1 1-1 3

Sasha Vujacic 0-6 2-2 2

Luke Walton 0-0 1-2 1

Totals 8-19 10-12 27