The Jazz are slipping.
After trashing the San Antonio Spurs by 30 on Saturday, Utah had to settle for a mere 15-point win at the Delta Center on Sunday, 101-86. The victory gives them a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.And seriously, who are these guys? Can anyone remember a Jazz team that played better than this for a five-game stretch? And who is this Chris Morris character, who spent most of the season riding the bench but absolutely bedeviled the Spurs, scoring 13 points in the first quarter en route to a game-high 25 points?
This is starting to look eerie, especially to San Antonio coach Bob Hill, who has to be wondering what it takes to beat the Jazz. He tried the typical Spurs' finesse approach, but that resulted in a 20-point loss in Texas. After the Game 3 catastrophe he made a plea for more physical play from his guys, and they tried, but all that resulted in was a rare foulout for center David Robinson.
"Utah is playing great basketball right now," Hill said. "Their attitude and their chemistry and their commitment to one another, all the things that are so important this time of the season, are clicking."
As for his team, Hill said, "We're not moving the ball. We're not shooting the ball well. And we're getting to the foul line and not shooting the ball very well there."
He only exaggerated a little. San Antonio had more turnovers than assists . They shot a respectable 46 percent from the field, but that's not good enough when the Jazz are shooting 52.9. And while they shot a decent 75 percent from the line, Utah made 91.3 percent (21 of 23) of its foul shots.
The Spurs can complain about Robinson playing just 24 minutes, but the fact is Utah outscored San Antonio 53-40 when the Admiral was on the court. Utah's Karl Malone had an off-night offensively, hitting just six of 15 shots (though he was 10 for 10 from the foul line), but he did a tremendous defensive job on Robinson, repeatedly slapping the ball away from him. For the second game in a row, Robinson scored just 11 points, 15 below his season average. He took three shots.
Hill said Robinson didn't get the respect he deserves.
"I don't have any comment on the kind of fouls he had . . . except for about four of them," he said. "He didn't get the benefit of the doubt on calls tonight, and a player of his magnitude should get the benefit of the doubt."
Asked if he was surprised to see Robinson foul out, Jazz center Felton Spencer said, "I've never seen it before. It's a new experience. It was a tough night for those guys all around."
It was tough early and often. San Antonio scored the first four points of the game, but the Jazz responded with nine straight points and never trailed.
Utah had a hard time pulling away, however. It was one of those they-make-a-run, we-make-a-run kind of games. Late in the second quarter, however, the Jazz were on the wrong end of a 20-4 free-throw deficit when Robinson got two fouls in nine seconds, on the same Jazz possession. The Jazz led 53-42 at the half, largely thanks to nine San Antonio turnovers in the second quarter.
Robinson started the third quarter, but got his fourth foul - the officials actually gave Spencer a call, which may be a season first - 14 seconds into the period, sending him to the bench again. The Jazz went on to build a 19-point lead, their biggest of the game, on a long three by Howard Eisley to beat the shot clock, with 2:34 left.
That was shortly after Robinson hit the bench again, after fouling John Stockton, and at that point Utah apparently figured it had won something. As the Jazz spectated, the Spurs closed the period with an 11-1 run to get within nine, 83-74. Then they opened the fourth quarter with four straight points, and it was a five-point game.
"We had a little bit of a letdown when David went out of the game," said Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek. "Most teams make a run, and that happened to be theirs."
It also may have been the deciding point of the series. If the Spurs had been able to ride their momentum to a win, the series would have been tied 2-2 heading back to the Lone Star State. But San Antonio missed three straight outside shots, including threes by Elliott and Chuck Person, and the Jazz answered with a layup by Malone and a three by Bryon Russell. After two free throws by Elliott, the Spurs went five minutes without scoring, a stretch during which Robinson returned, only to foul Hornacek for his game-ending sixth.
Hill said he'll be surprised if his players don't come up with a better effort in Game 5 on Tuesday.
"They're a very resilient group of people, and they should be back, but right now they're down," he said.
The Jazz, meanwhile, would like to keep them down.
"We have a chance to wrap up the series, and we have to go down there with the intent that's what we're going to do," Hornacek said.
Jazz on TV
Tuesday's Utah-San Antonio game in San Antonio will be televised by KJZZ and TBS beginning at 7 p.m.