The Jazz can blame Thursday night's 94-92 loss to Houston on a lot of things too many second shots for the Rockets, off-nights by a couple of Jazz starters and the re-emergence of Houston point guard Rafer Alston.
But the biggest reason was Utah's atrocious free throw shooting.
To put it bluntly, if the Jazz had hit anywhere near their season average, they would be up 3-0 in the series and looking at a sweep Saturday night.
After shooting 75.9 percent during the regular season, the Jazz had survived the first two games of the series despite shooting just 67.5 percent from the free throw line.
However, the Jazz, while shooting 11 more free throws than the Rockets Thursday, only managed 60.6 percent from the free throw line with 20-of-33.
"If we make our free throws, we win the game," said Carlos Boozer. "The game was lost for us at the free throw line. I think we missed 13 as a team. That's the game right there."
Boozer was one of the biggest culprits from the foul line. A 74-percent shooter on the season, Boozer made just 3-of-8 and missed a huge pair or fouls shots with 5:09 left and the Jazz leading 84-83. After the Jazz went up 86-83, they watched the Rockets run off 10 straight points to essentially put the game away before a late rally by the Jazz. Perhaps if the Jazz had a five-point lead, the Rockets wouldn't have made their run.
The Jazz came back to cut the lead to 93-92 on a pair of 3-pointers, but couldn't score in the final seconds and didn't get another chance to go to the line as Deron Williams' last-second shot was cleanly blocked by Carl Landry.
Utah coach Jerry Sloan ticked off a list of things the Jazz did wrong, including "the 13 missed free throws."28 comments on this story
However, while he said "we missed some free throws," he gave most of the credit to the "tenacity" of the Rockets, who outrebounded the Jazz 43-39 and came up with 16 offensive rebounds, including seven by Carl Landry.
Besides Boozer's 3-of-8, Mehmet Okur was 4-of-7, Andrei Kirilenko was 0-for-2 and Paul Millsap and Matt Harpring were both 1-of-2. Only Williams at 7-of-8 and Ronnie Brewer at 2-of-2 had good nights at the line, although Williams' miss came with the Jazz leading just 82-81.The Rockets who had shot 15 more free throws in the two games in Houston, while shooting just 61.8 percent, finished with 16-of-22 on the night for 72.7 percent. At one point in the second half, the Jazz had shot 29 free throws to 11 for the Rockets, but the Rockets had 10 in the final quarter to four for the Jazz.