DALLAS — With Jazz point guards John Stockton and Jacque Vaughn both fighting foul trouble Saturday, veteran John Crotty got some unexpected late minutes in Dallas' 94-91 Game 3 NBA playoff-series victory over Utah.

As it turned out, Crotty was involved in a key play. Yet he never even touched the ball on it. At least that's what the Jazz maintain, and what television replays convincingly confirmed.

The scenario: With just more than eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, Mavericks point guard Steve Nash, with Crotty on him, loses his dribble out of bounds. Refs, though, call it Dallas ball, and keep it that way even after Ed T. Rush confers with crew-mates Dan Crawford and Scott Foster.

Said Crotty, who played three minutes: "I explained to (Rush) that I didn't hit the ball, so he asked the other two officials, and neither one of them had the angle to see it."

The Mavs didn't score on the possession anyway, but Jazz coach Jerry Sloan still called it "a play that hurt us."

OK, O.P.: No one really was pinning it on him, but scoreless Jazz starting center Olden Polynice nevertheless felt compelled to accept responsibility for the loss.

"If I do a little bit of what I did in Salt Lake, we win," said Polynice, who had 8 points in Game 1 of the series and 11 in Game 2, both Utah victories. "(But) I didn't get a chance to touch the ball, you know? I didn't do anything. I didn't produce anything. I'm taking the blame.

"They weren't playing me differently," added Polynice, who took only one shot, a desperation 3-pointer to end the first quarter, and recorded just one rebound. "I had the same open looks. I had the same 'openness' — put it that way. I didn't have any looks. It's my fault."

OW: An accidental head-butt early in the second half sent both starting point guards briefly to the locker room. Stockton had his jaw checked out, but it was OK. Nash emerged a short time later with a bandage covering seven stitches used to close a gash to his upper forehead.

Stockton assessed no blame: "Basically," he said, "we just collided with each other and hit heads."

SIGNAGE: One of the best signs seen Saturday may have been one the read "Mavs Beat The Uflop Jazz." One of the worst was for Mav Shawn Bradley. It read, in large, capital letters, "BRADELY."

Duh.

BIG BUCKS: Bradley, the ex-BYU center, made a couple of charitable donations at halftime Saturday, with $10,200 (representing $50 for each block he had this season) going Bryan's House, a Dallas-area managed care facility for children and their families affected by HIV/AIDS, and $5,100 ($50 per dunk) to The School of Dallas, which provides early education to children with Down syndrome. Mavs owner Mark Cuban matched both donations.

DON'T LOOK NOW: Cuban, who made a spectacle of himself in Game 2 by pounding a Delta Center press table and jawing long-distance with Sloan, wore a T-shirt Saturday that read words to the effect of "If You're Watching Me, You're Missing One H--- Of A Game."

MISC.: The Jazz were not thrilled with the linens provided by their hosts. The fluffy, green towels, emblazoned with 'Dallas Mavericks' and apparently brand-new, left some dye-stained lint that stuck in a couple players' facial stubble, including that of center Greg Ostertag . . . After going scoreless in Game 1 and being benched in Game 2, ex-Jazz guard Howard Eisley returned to the Mavs lineup. He came off the bench to score 7 points, but hit just 2-of-7 shots . . . Forward Mark Bryant played in Dallas' last home playoff game — 11 years, when he played for Mavs opponent Portland . . . Famous face in the crowd: Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach . . . The Jazz were without shooting guard John Starks, still recovering from Tuesday surgery. Starks will be re-evaluated to see if he can travel here Game 2 . . . Tuesday night's start time will be determined today.


E-MAIL: tbuckley@desnews.com