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MAGIC RIDE FELL OFF TRACK THURSDAY

BY THE time John Stockton had thrown away two passes and missed a layup, and Karl Malone had gone inside and tossed the ball over the other side of the rim, one thing was clear: things had died down considerably.

The Jazz had finally landed.Whatever possessed them the last two playoff games had finally rubbed off. The magic twinkle dust that had been with them was gone. The tides had finally subsided, the full moon waned. Four minutes into Thursday's 88-77 Spurs win over the Jazz, everyone in the bulding knew that this time the Jazz weren't going to be running over anyone.

From now on they'd have to do things the old fashioned way - they'd have to come from behind. No more roaring starts. No more whopping leads. No more punching out early.

"They came at us tonight like we did the last couple of games," said Jazz center Felton Spencer. "We didn't really play well and they played very well."

Until Thursday, the Jazz were on a roll that could only be described as otherworldly. They found open men. They stole passes. They hit 3s. They read one another's minds. Last Sunday they tromped Portland by 38 points on national television in a game so lopsided it actually made you want to watch the Houston Open. Twice. They followed it up with a 20-point win over the Spurs on Tuesday.

But that was then.

Strangely enough, Thursday's game lifted off just like the previous two Jazz games. The only difference was the Jazz were on the bad end. In the first quarter they made only 4 of 17 shots and scored all of nine points. Fourteen minutes into the game they were down by 18. The Jazz were looking at the scoreboard and scratching their heads. They recognized the score but couldn't figure out why they felt so bad. Like the Spurs on Tuesday, they mounteda comeback from an 18-point deficit but couldn't continue in the second half.

"They flip-flopped things exactly on us," said Spencer.

"They waxed us every way in the world," said Sloan, who was enjoying himself so much he drew two technicals and an automatic ejection. "It's hard to feel good about that."

While the Jazz managed to contain Spurs' guards Vinny Del Negro and Avery Johnson, that wasn't the case with everyone. Chuck Person came off the bench to score 16 points, including nine in the fourth quarter.

Person is no mystery to the Jazz. Through a career in Indiana, Minnesota and now San Antonio, he has made a career of firing up long-range shots. You can tell he's coming by the whistle overhead. He'd shoot blindfolded if he had to. He'd shoot in a high wind and in a dark gym. He'd shoot with one hand tied behind his back.

So far in the playoffs, Person has lived up to expectations and then some. Before Thursday's game he had made a whopping 61 percent of his 3-point shots and averaged 13.2 points a game, three more than his regular season average. While Person had only eight points in Game 1, he was the old Rifleman in Game 2 when he buried a pair of 24-footers within two minutes of one another early in the fourth quarter. He said good night with a 3-point play with 9.8 seconds to go.

That Person would be a major culprit in the Jazz's downfall was particularly surprising considering he spent all Wednesday night walking the floor. After eating an ice cream bar earlier in the day, his tooth began to ache. Thursday morning he went to the dentist and had a root canal that took 12 shots of Novocaine to subdue. He went all day Thursday without eating a bite, and played the game having had only two glasses of water.

But by game time he was feeling no pain. He landed a layup with 3:10 to go in the third quarter to put the Spurs ahead by three. Then he began the fourth quarter with his 3-pointer that boosted the Spurs' lead from 9 to 12, and the second that moved their lead from 10 to 13.

He had shot the Jazz out of it.

So after two games of running away with the lead, the Jazz were on the other side this time. Turnabout was fair play. And both teams were predicting the games of big leads would soon be a thing of the past. Which stands to reason. You can only be perfect for so long.