They can point to Deron Williams being under the weather. They can blame the officiating, the technical fouls and the ejections. They can kick themselves for losing their composure, which they most certainly did.
What really did in the Jazz on Monday night at sold-out EnergySolutions Arena, though, was coming up dry late in the fourth quarter of their 91-79 NBA Western Conference finals Game 4 loss to San Antonio.
Trailing by just four points with five-and-a-half minutes remaining, Utah went dry for a three-minute stretch in which the Spurs reeled off a decisive 11-1 run to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series that resumes Wednesday night at San Antonio.
Nine of the Spurs points during the spurt came from the free-throw line, including one stemming from a technical on guard Derek Fisher and another that came after Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was ejected with 2:34 to go.
Eight points during the run were scored by swingman Manu Ginobili, whose 22 points off the bench were a team-high.
"That was the difference in the game," Jazz power forward Carlos Boozer, who finished with 18 points on 9-of-16 shooting from the field, said of the Jazz's fourth-quarter follies.
"They showed their experience on us," Boozer added with regard to the three-time NBA-champion Spurs, who broke an 0-9 playoff losing streak in Utah that dates to 1994. "They got to the line a great more. Some were tough calls. Obviously some where clear-cut fouls, but they shot a lot of free throws."
The Jazz, meanwhile, went four straight possessions without any points misses by Fisher, Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko and Williams and 5-of-6 without a field goal during San Antonio's pullaway stretch.
"We just missed a couple easy shots," said Williams, who despite being drained by a stomach virus that caused him to miss practice Sunday, miss morning shoot around Monday and take IV fluids as well finished with a game-high 27 points.
"For a little stretch, we didn't execute as well as we should," added Williams, who managed only three points himself during a personal 1-for-5 fourth quarter. "We were still aggressive, for the most part. We just didn't convert."
The Jazz's biggest woes came during a final quarter that the Spurs, up by just one heading at 63-62 heading into the fourth, won 28-17.
"Games are won and lost in that period at times," Spurs swingman Bruce Bowen said, "and we just wanted to make sure we didn't come back into the lockerroom after the game and say, 'We wish would have done this better.' "
Funny enough, that's precisely what the Jazz were saying after losing at home for the first time in eight games this postseason.
"Calls didn't go our way, really. Things didn't go our way," said Williams, who has scored 26 or more in all four series games. "But you've got to give it up to them they made plays down the stretch.
"They kept their cool; we didn't," Williams added. "We lost our composure a little bit, and it's something we really haven't done this playoff series. You know, we've been the people that kept our heads, stayed focus, stayed in there and kept fighting."
This time, the Jazz wound up getting tagged with five technicals two each in the fourth quarter on Fisher, who was ejected in the final minute, and Sloan, and one on guard Gordan Giricek in the second quarter.
It was part of a Utah meltdown that resulted after a long night of calls they perceived did not go their way, though Sloan had little to say about that afterward.
"I don't talk about those," the Jazz coach said when asked the circumstances of the technicals and his ejection, "because all that does is give me more trouble."
Pressed on the matter, Sloan said, "I said I wouldn't talk about that."Comment on this story
What he was willing to discuss, though, was his satisfaction with the Jazz's effort even if it did come in a losing cause.
"It is very difficult," he said of being down 3-1 to a team that has won three titles since 1999, "but I was proud the way I thought our guys played their hearts out.
"I thought they competed about as much as you can ask guys to compete. You know we came up short."They did, even if only during a three-minute skid of terror that made all their other troubles seem so mild.