Add psychic to Charles Barkley's ever-growing list of titles.
Though he didn't exactly predict the outcome of Game 4, the outrageous one did forsee circumstances that would prevent Houston from clinching its NBA playoff series with Utah.And on Friday, his concerns became reality as the Jazz forced a decisive fifth game with a 93-71 come-from-behind victory over the Rockets in the Compaq Center. The series finale is slated for Sunday in Salt Lake City.The doctors say it's going to take a miracle for me to be ready by Sunday.
"We can't blow 10, 11, 12 point leads like that," Barkley said after Utah rallied to win in Game 4. He also noted it was in Houston's best interest to wrap up the series in Texas. "If we don't, we don't deserve to win the series."
The latter remains to be seen. Though if the Rockets' postgame demeanor is any indication, there may not be much fuel left in the tank. In stark contrast to Game 4 when the players and staff were hooting and hollering their way to the locker room, no one was smiling. Blank stares and dejection dominated this procession.
And that was before word that Barkley, who suffered a deep bruise to his right tricep in the second quarter, may not be available for Game 5.
"The doctors say it's going to take a miracle for me to be ready by Sunday," Barkley said.
His absence will be felt keenly. It was Friday. Prior to the injury, which came courtesy of Antoine Carr's elbow, Sir Charles had made four of five shots from the field. He wound up with nine points, third highest on the Rockets.
"I felt like I was going to have a really good game and I was," Barkley said before explaining Houston's downfall. "We were working `Dream' so hard and nobody else stepped up. That was the turning point."
In the first half, the Rockets did exactly what they planned to do. Their game plan was simple. On offense, get the ball inside to Hakeem Olajuwon. On defense, make things tough for Jazz star Karl Malone.
Mission accomplished. Halftime score: Houston 42, Utah 36.
"They ran as hard as any team I've seen in the first half," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.
Olajuwon tallied 18 points and 10 rebounds over the first two periods as the Rockets built a lead that swelled as high as 12. The Houston center attempted 15 field goals in the first half and went to the free-throw line eight times.
Meanwhile, Malone got off to a rocky start by making just two of his first six shots to keep Utah behind throughout the first 24 minutes.
"I just try to make him earn everything he gets. And I'm not going to let it be easy jump shots," said Kevin Willis, who drew the defensive assignment on Malone. "If he's going to make shots and beat us, it's going to be with a tough hand in his face . . . contesting the shots."
In the second half, however, it was no contest. The Mailman delivered - and how.
Malone scored 19 of his game-high 29 points in the final two quarters as the Jazz stormed back to outscore the Rockets 57-29. Utah took the lead for good, at 60-59, on a free throw by Jeff Hornacek with 1:37 remaining in the third period.
Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said it all unraveled when his team began to miss shots from point-blank range after failing to build a bigger lead at the intermission.
"We had an outstanding defensive first half," Tomjanovich said. "We didn't shoot the ball real well so it was a close game. Then in the second half we just couldn't make a basket."
As for Game 5?
"There's always a chance. We went in there without `Dream' late in the season and led most of the way," he added. "I'm still believing."
And wishing the season-long battle with injuries was over.