SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz came oh-so-close to pulling off one of their crazier comeback victories of the season.
But an unfathomable last-second rally and a chance at overtime slipped away from the Jazz at the buzzer when the basketball squirted out of Andrei Kirilenko's hands after he made a crafty steal with 1.2 seconds remaining with Utah down two.
Even so, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin believes his struggling but improving squad — a team that has lost seven straight at home and 17 of 22 overall — can take a big lesson out of their disappointing 103-101 defeat to the Denver Nuggets.
"We've got a lot of ball left to play and this tonight is a prime example," Corbin said. "As long as there's some time on the clock there's still a chance to win the game."
After botching a hard-earned six-point lead it acquired midway through the fourth quarter, the Jazz seemed dead in the water with 5.5 seconds remaining.
Sure, they had the ball. But even in the NBA, where the ball can be advanced three-quarters of the court after a timeout, 5.5 ticks on the clock is not a whole lot.
But Devin Harris gave the Jazz some slight hope by drilling a 3-pointer with just over a second remaining to trim the Nuggets' advantage to two.
Kirilenko then almost sent the contest into overtime when he grabbed a bobbled inbounds pass by Kenyon Martin. However, the Russian small forward didn't quite get a grip on the ball and it fumbled in his hands and was off target following his post-buzzer release.
"As soon as he lose the ball, I know I have to go right to the basket," Kirilenko explained. "But his hand was on the ball. It wasn't foul, but just the play I didn't really get the ball. I tried to finish it without it, but just got caught in transition."
Added Kirilenko: "Unfortunately, it was a pretty good play, but if I would've been able to finish, it would've been nicer."
And much needed.
In losing to its Northwest Division rival for the second time in three games this season, Utah fell to 32-30 and dropped two full games out of the playoff picture behind eighth-place Memphis.
Twenty games remain in the 2010-11 season, but time is running out for the Jazz to turn things around after this wacky year fell apart following a promising 15-5 start.
That last-ditch effort, though, is symbolic for Corbin, who is trying to rally his troops after the shocking resignation of Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and the stunning trade of team leader Deron Williams in recent weeks.
That no-quit attitude is what the Jazz must display the rest of the way in order to make up lost playoff ground.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get a call and make the shot to tie it up to go into overtime," Corbin said. "But we never quit on the game. As long as we don't do that and don't quit on each other, we've got a chance of working our way out of this."
On a bright note for the Jazz, new point guard Devin Harris had an excellent game for the Jazz by scoring 21 points with nine assists and only one turnover. Not known for his outside expertise, Harris even drilled 4 of 7 3-pointers.
Equally encouraging was the breakout game by C.J. Miles, who sparked Utah off the bench with 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting.
Center Al Jefferson had another solid game with a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Kirilenko finished with 12 points, five assists, three blocks and boards and a pair of steals.
Problem was, the Jazz struggled defensively for three quarters against the Nuggets, who have gone 5-1 since trading away Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. Utah held Denver to just 16 points in the third quarter as the Jazz turned a seven-point halftime deficit into a two-point edge heading into the final stanza.97 comments on this story
But 37-26 Denver's dangerous and speedy guard line of Ty Lawson (23 points), Arron Afflalo (19 points) and Raymond Felton (13 points) proved too much for Utah to handle on this night.
"Guys are playing hard. We're busting our butt," Corbin added. "We got up (six) points and we got away from what we were doing a little bit, we took a couple of bad shots and we turned the ball over a few times that cost us down the stretch.
The Jazz conclude their three-game homestand Saturday against Sacramento before embarking on a four-game trip back East.