HOUSTON At this point, the Houston Rockets will probably want to try channeling the ghosts of Hakeem Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry and Vernon Maxwell.
It's not like they have a lot of other options.
When the Jazz are hitting the side of the glass and still recovering, it will take something supernatural to save the Rockets from elimination. The Jazz increased their first-round playoff lead to 2-0 with a 90-84 win Monday night. Never mind it wasn't exactly artistic. Kyle Korver's shot with 21 seconds left, and the Jazz leading by just three, ricocheted back to Andrei Kirilenko, who passed to Korver at almost the same spot. That time it went in and the Jazz were headed home with a two-game sweep.
And while the Rockets are a remarkably resilient team, considering the circumstances, they aren't likely to do what they did in 1994. That year they blew leads of 18 and 20 points in their Western Conference semifinal series, falling behind 2-0 to Phoenix, yet rebounded to win the series and go on to win the NBA title.
After Game 2, a newspaper headline screamed "Choke City!" which eventually morphed into the team slogan "Clutch City!"
Barring earthquake, famine or a reappearance of Hakeem the Dream, though, this one is 99.9 percent history. Not that it's been a choke by the Rockets, so much as an inevitability.
"We're fairly happy right now," understated Korver.
The game came down to the final minute with the teams neck and neck. Two Deron Williams layups slipped off the rim. Soon afterward, Korver took a baseline shot that ended halfway through its flight when it drilled into the side of the glass.
"I thought it was a pretty decent shot," said Korver. "I thought it might go in."
But Kirilenko rebounded, throwing to Korver, who fired it up again, without hesitation.
"There couldn't be; there was no time for hesitation," he added.
With the series returning to Salt Lake, the Rockets would need something as special as '94, or 1995 when they fell behind 0-2 and 1-3 to the Suns, yet still managed to win the series and go on to a second championship.
But that was then and this is McNow. With superstar guard Tracy McGrady having gone 16-43 from the field in two games thanks largely to the Jazz's relentless defense their chances are remote.
Considering the Jazz made off with a road win in Game 1, the obvious question was whether they would go for the throat on Monday, or simply settle for the split. For a team that won just 17 road games in the regular season, the opening-game win was a major relief.
But that led to speculation that the Jazz might actually sweep the series. Heaven help anyone trying to win in EnergySolutions Arena after losing two at home. But Jazz players did their best to remain hungry, telling reporters that even though their original goal was to win at least one in Houston, they weren't planning to stop there.
When someone on Sunday asked Kirilenko about getting "greedy" and going for a two-game sweep, he said there was nothing wrong with the idea. "I don't think it's greedy. What are we supposed to do just come to the game and lose it and go back home?"
That's exactly what happened to the Jazz twice in their history but it still worked out. In 1991, the Jazz opened the playoffs at Phoenix, winning Game 1 but losing the next one. But they went on to eliminate the Suns in a five-game series. In 1996, they opened the second round with a win at San Antonio but lost Game 2. Utah went on to win that series 4-2.
Overall, the Jazz are 5-3 after opening on the road with a split.
This is the first time the Jazz have won the first two games of a series on the road.
Now it's back to Salt Lake, where they are nearly invincible and where they have a fairly supernatural aura of their own.Said Kirilenko: "I'm tired of Houston and I want to be home."
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