Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
In trying to distract San Antonio's Tim Duncan as he shot fourth-quarter free throws, the EnergySolutions Arena fan waving the upside-down Utah Jazz flag behind the San Antonio backboard perhaps provided an ill-fated omen.
As far as U.S. flag protocol goes, flying a flag upside down is a signal of distress or emergency.
And as far as the Utah Jazz are concerned, the Spurs' fourth-quarter frequency and proficiency from the line proved the difference in San Antonio's 91-79 Game 4 victory Monday night.
And it proved to be the dooming factor for any late-game comeback hopes for the Jazz, who had won the second-half battles in each of the three previous matchups.
"We just couldn't keep them off the free-throw line," Utah head coach Jerry Sloan said.
To the tune of a 17-of-20 San Antonio performance in the game's final 10 minutes, with two of the Spurs' three misses coming after the Jazz deficit had reached double digits.
Meanwhile, Utah managed just one make out of two tries from the charity stripe in the final quarter.
"That was the difference in the game," Jazz forward Carlos Boozer said. "They showed their experience on us. They got to the line a great deal more.... Some were tough calls. Obviously, some were definitely clear-cut fouls, but they shot a lot of free throws."
After watching a four-point deficit balloon to eight and then return to four again at 76-72 on Mehmet Okur's baseline jumper with 5:31 to play, the Jazz had a chance to whittle the margin even more, regaining possession after Andrei Kirilenko's block of San Antonio's Fabricio Oberto.
But that's when the drought began as Derek Fisher missed a corner 3-pointer, with one-shot-and-done possessions following on a Boozer miss, an errant Kirilenko trey attempt and a Deron Williams misfire.
During the same two-minute stretch, the Spurs started to get comfortable at the line three of four by Duncan and three of three by Manu Ginobili as San Antonio increased the lead to 10.
"We didn't make some plays under stress, and they did," Williams said "That's how it goes sometimes."
Added Boozer: "It is tough to get back in the game when we're missing shots.... And when they were getting free throws, we were taking jump shots. It is tough to close that gap."
Jazz guard Gordan Giricek said the blame rested with Utah. "When we had a chance to get momentum on our side, we didn't have enough patience," he said. "We were taking quick shots, and we were missing the shots. It was our fault. We had our chances."
And playing catch-up is hampered when you're giving away extra free throws, with Sloan and Fisher whistled for a pair of technicals each in the final period.
Kirilenko credited the Spurs for their aggressive attack. "They go after the ball and get a foul and get to the free-throw line," he said. "They didn't really execute their offense they get to the free-throw line and they make layups."
While he credited his team for its competitive effort throughout Game 4, Sloan said he hopes his players have learned from the fourth-quarter challenges."I think that's what they've got to learn every time they step on the floor" Sloan said, "is obviously you need to learn how to stick with what you are trying to do and not have the turnovers and not have the fouls that put them on the free-throw line, regardless of circumstances."
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