Jazz 85, Wizards 77
SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—In an otherwise forgettable game, Andrei Kirilenko’s scintillating performance stood out.
“Andrei made some great plays defensively that saved us in the fourth quarter,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said after Kirilenko had 19 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, seven blocked shots and four steals.
“Right now we need this win. We played pretty good defense and helped each other and that’s why we won the game,” Kirilenko said after the Jazz moved a half-game ahead of Denver for eighth place in the Western Conference.
Kirilenko didn’t get much help when it mattered. So he took charge late in the fourth quarter after the Jazz let the Wizards hang around.
The Jazz had scored just two points in a five-minute span and the Wizards closed to 74-71 on Etan Thomas’s follow shot. Kirilenko then made a 3-pointer and blocked Larry Hughes, leading to Gordan Giricek’s layup.
After keeping the ball alive with three tips on a missed shot, Kirilenko made three of four free throws to clinch the win—Utah’s sixth in eight games.
“I like to be all over the place,” Kirilenko said.
“He’s a heck of a player. Because he’s very active, he’s a very good defensive player,” Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. “You don’t necessarily have to score or get your touches like a lot of these NBA players think they need to be a winning basketball player.”
Hughes scored 23 points for Washington but was blocked twice by Kirilenko in the final minutes. Steve Blake scored 16 points but had nine turnovers, and Mitchell Butler added 11 for the Wizards, who have lost nine of 11.
The Wizards were outscored 42-18 in the paint, and Blake—a skinny point guard—led the team with 10 rebounds.
Though the Jazz had every reason to be determined and gain ground in the playoff race, they played sloppy and sluggish. The crowd elicited as many groans as cheers as Utah seemed out of sync and struggled to beat the shot clock on several second-half possessions.
“You have to be intelligent in everything you do, and we got really casual in what we were doing,” Sloan said.
But the Wizards, without injured Gilbert Arenas, could not overcome the play of Kirilenko.
Washington had 23 turnovers. After the Jazz threw the ball away late in the game, the Wizards ran a play for a 3-point shot to try and get within four, but Blake passed the ball 10 feet above Christian Laettner’s head and out of bounds.
“We were making bad plays, making bad decisions. It’s what we’ve been doing all year, pretty much,” Hughes said.
Arenas, the team’s leading scorer at 20.1 points a game, did not dress due to a sprained right ankle. The Wizards were a step slow all night and allowed 27 fast break points for the Jazz.
“They’re one of the best teams in transition, and they’re good at creating turnovers,” Jordan said.
The Jazz began the third quarter with a six straight points to lead 58-40 and seemed destined to put away the hobbled Wizards. But Butler’s 3-pointer capped a 12-1 run as Utah scored just one point in a span of more than five minutes.
Blake scored 14 of his points in the first half to keep the Wizards close, but Bell came off the bench to counter with 14 points to lift Utah to a 52-40 halftime lead.
The Wizards, who shot 35.4 percent, began their five-game Western road swing in familiar fashion. Washington lost its fifth straight away from home anddropped to 1-8 in Western Conference arenas.
Before the game, the Wizards activated Chris Whitney from the injured list and replaced him with first-round draft pick Jarvis Hayes, who was averaging 9.6 points and 4.0 rebounds. … When Jordan yelled at official Bernie Fryer about Mikki Moore’s hard foul on a fast-break drive by Butler, Fryer shook his head and said, “Momentum, Ed. That was momentum.” … Referee Tony Brothers left in the fourth quarter with chest pains. The game’s final fewminutes were refereed by just two officials.