After their lone victory over Portland earlier this season, the Jazz crowed about how well they thought they matched up with the Trail Blazers.
On Thursday, they were reminded otherwise.
Portland beat Utah 101-99 at the Delta Center, giving the Blazers a 3-1 decision in the season series between the teams — and the Jazz a dose of humility from the very opponent that ended their last two NBA postseasons.
"They're a very talented team," Jazz guard John Starks said after Utah slipped to 46-21 and lost ground to Thursday-night winner San Antonio in the Western Conference championship race.
Portland also is a team that was able — long before Dale Davis hit two winning free throws with 1.9 seconds to go, and long before John Stockton's would-be 3-point game-winner rimmed out at the buzzer — to exploit to the max a mismatch of notable proportion.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan lauded 6-foot-1 Stockton for the defensive job he did on 6-7 Blazer Scottie Pippen, but reality suggests Portland took advantage of the obvious size disparity.
"They went to the key matchup, which was Scottie on Stockton," Jazz forward Donyell Marshall said, "and they executed, and they made sure every possession they had counted."
That includes three in particular in the game's final two-plus minutes, when Pippen scored 8 of Portland's last 10 points.
"I thought it worked out great for us," said Pippen, who finished with a team-high 25 points. "I was able to take advantage of (Stockton) in the post, and other guys stepped up, too."
Sloan seemed more concerned with those 'other guys,' and what the Jazz failed to do to slow the likes of Bonzi Wells (22 points) and Rasheed Wallace (21).
"They put Pippen on (Stockton), and we had to try to guard him with John. We were concerned about some of the other people, and that hurt us a little bit," Sloan said. "But the second shots (the Blazers scored 5 of their 9 second-chance points in the fourth quarter, when they out-rebounded the Jazz 9-7) and things like that that they got over the top of us will kill you.
"If you can't block off in those situations, at least go to the body and keep them off there. . . . The little things are going to win the basketball games at this stage of the season, and every time we played this team the little things have been the difference."
The Jazz essentially had to pick their poison in this meeting with the 45-24 Blazers, who are fighting for first-round homecourt advantage in the Western playoff picture.
If someone else would have guarded Pippen in the late going, the Jazz would have risked having Wells — arguably a better post-up player than Pippen — taking Stockton down low.
Instead the Jazz, who were up by 11 points late in the third quarter and by 7 to start the fourth, stuck with Stockton on Pippen.
When Pippen drove for a layup with 2:12, Stockton was called for a foul and Pippen — who was scratching, clawing and making a general nuisance of himself much of the evening — made the free throw to make it 97-94 Jazz.
After Bryon Russell missed a quick-trigger 3-pointer on the other end, Pippen came right back down and stuck a 15-foot jumper. Russell missed yet another 3 after that and, after an exchange of failed possessions, Pippen knocked down a 3 of his own that gave Portland a 99-97 lead with 25.2 seconds to go.
Utah responded with a mad-scramble bucket by Danny Manning, who tied the game at 99 with 6.2 seconds to go, when he rebounded a 3-point Stockton airball for the final 2 of his team- and season-high 25 points.
Pippen then tried to win it all himself but wound up getting stripped in the paint. Davis retrieved the loose ball, was fouled by Russell and made his freebies, leaving the Jazz to run one final play. Stockton got away from Pippen and got what he called "a decent look," but his shot from behind the arc was not to be.
"It looked like it had a chance," Stockton said, "but it didn't fall. You can't rely on those."
Nor, in this instance, were the Jazz able to depend on winning a matchup that had mismatch written all over it.
"Mismatches can go a lot of different ways," Stockton said. "We lost, obviously — so it worked in their favor."
MISC.: This marks the first time Portland has beaten the Jazz in all games played in Salt Lake during their regular-season series . . . Russell scored his 5,000th career point with the first of his two second-quarter 3-pointers . . . Manning's 25 surpassed the 20 he had at Sacramento on March 11 . . . Karl Malone scored 24 and went 4-of-5 from the free-throw line, leaving him seven makes shy of passing Moses Malone and becoming the NBA's all-timer leader with 8,532 . . . An obviously perturbed Malone left the Jazz locker room Thursday night without stopping to answer questions, saying only, "Saving my money, fellas." . . . Wallace managed to go technical-free Thursday, leaving him with 38 this season, which ties the NBA record he set last season . . . Trail Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis finished with 8 points and four rebounds in his first game back after missing one with an ankle sprain.