Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — They got a shot from Deron Williams they could live with at the end, and even got a follow tip by Wesley Matthews they weren't necessarily expecting.
But one bounced up, another bounced the wrong direction and neither bounced in — leaving the Jazz in need of rewriting history if they are to bounce back and beat the Los Angeles Lakers and advance to the NBA's Western Conference Finals.
That's because the Lakers turned back Utah 111-110 in Game 3 of their second-round matchup on Saturday night at sold-out EnergySolutions Arena, giving L.A. a 3-0 advantage no team has been able to overcome in 88 previous best-of-seven NBA postseason series.
"It's hard to accept that, man," power forward Carlos Boozer said of things not falling the Jazz's way. "You know, I thought we played well enough to win the game.
"A couple of bounces here, a couple of bounces there, and we do."
Even after losing their 11th playoff game among 14 against the defending NBA champion Lakers since 2008, though, the Jazz felt as confident as they could about being able to avoid being swept for the first time in the postseason since losing a best-of-five series to Golden State in 1989 and the first time in franchise history in a best-of-seven series.
"I said this was a must-win for us, because I think it's gonna be tough to beat this team four times," said Williams, whose 28 points were a team-high on a night Kyle Korver scored 23 off the bench and Boozer had a 14-point, 14-rebound double — but no one else scored more than Paul Millsap's 13 for Utah. "But, you know, we're not gonna just give up on the season."
"We just have to keep it going, keep it going, keep fighting," Matthews added, "and hopefully a little luck will be on our side."
It certainly wasn't Saturday, when Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 35 points (his third 30-plus-point game this series), Ron Artest and Derek Fisher added 20 points apiece and Paul Gasol had a 14-point, 17-rebound double-double for the West's No. 1 seed Lakers.
The Jazz led by five points midway through the fourth quarter, by four with just under two minutes to go and by two after Williams drained an 18-footer with 42.3 seconds remaining.
But ex-Jazz guard Fisher hit a 3-pointer to make it 109-108 with 28.6 seconds left, Boozer couldn't score with the rebound of a missed Matthews trey try — "Of course," Boozer said when asked if he thought Gasol fouled him by on the play — and Bryant hit two free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining to put the Lakers up by three.
Williams got fouled by Fisher and hit two freebies to make it 111-110 Lakers with 6.1 seconds to go, and on the other end Artest's in-bounds pass — intended for Fisher, who couldn't draw a foul despite being tackled by Matthews — wound up in Korver's hands.
The Jazz called a 20-second timeout, advanced the ball and set up Williams for a 23-footer from up top — a shot Jazz coach Jerry Sloan called "decent."
"Well, he had the ball in his hands," Sloan said. "And you don't get everything you want; you'd like to have a layup. ... But he got the shot off."
It was almost all he could hope for, Williams suggested.
"I wanted to get it a little deeper, but when I crossed over I saw (Artest) kind of stumble," the All-Star point guard said. "So I felt if I took another dribble or two, he would have been able to recover. So, I mean, I had a wide-open look. I just missed it."
Enter Matthews, who raced away from Bryant and rose behind Gasol for a follow tip that would have beaten the buzzer.
"The ball went right when it should have went left," Matthews said. "That's all it was.
"It hurts. ... I just wanted so bad to make up for the missed free throw and the missed 3-pointer, you know," added Matthews, who hit just 1-of-2 freebies with 1:06 left — allowing Bryant to tie the game at 109 with a trey. "It felt good. I felt like I got enough hand on it to put enough touch to make it go in, no matter what it hit. But it wasn't with us today."
Whether it will be for Game 4 on Monday remains to be seen.
Even if the result isn't, Sloan hopes the effort is.
"When you're down, are you gonna quit? I hope our guys don't," he said. "I'd really be disappointed in our people if they did that."
Either way, they know nothing — not even avoidance of a sweep — is guaranteed.
"It's a funny game," Matthews said. "That's really what it is: It's a funny game. We all love it, but sometimes if it's not there it's not there."
"We're gonna just keep going out there and try to do what we do," added Boozer, who besides not following up on Matthews' miss also missed two free throws with 4:10 to go and had the ball slip away with 2:35 left. "And, hopefully, we get the bounce this time."
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