SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—Utah coach Jerry Sloan was a little mystified that the Jazz still have hope to reach the playoffs.
They didn’t play like it.
The Jazz blew an 11-point lead—long after Houston center Yao Ming left with a broken foot—and had to rally and hold off the Rockets 85-83 Monday and keep Utah’s dwindling playoff hopes alive.
“I didn’t know who was still trying to make the playoffs,” Sloan said. “They looked like the team that wants to be in the playoffs and we looked like we don’t want to be there.”
Houston lost Yao late in the first period. The Chinese star said Utah’s Mehmet Okur kicked him on the side of the foot, but he tried to play through the pain for a few minutes before it became too much. He left the game 44 seconds after converting a three-point play and finished with five points, two rebounds and a block in 8:31.
With just four games remaining, Yao’s fourth season in the league is almost certainly over.
“Maybe it’s the best thing for me and when I come back I’ll be stronger,” Yao said while wearing a protective boot in the locker room.
Houston had several chances down the stretch, the last coming on Juwan Howard’s jumper at the buzzer. The shot went in, but it was too late.
After reviewing the play, referee Joe Crawford ended the game by shouting “No good” toward Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy and the Rockets.
“It was a good game. It was more like a playoff atmosphere,” said Boozer, who led Utah with 25 points.
The Jazz won their third straight and improved to 38-39, getting within 2 1/2 games of the Lakers and Kings, who are tied for the last two playoff spots. It may be too much ground to make up for Utah, which would lose a tiebreaker to Sacramento.
“We made some mistakes down the stretch, but the biggest thing is we got the win,” said Matt Harpring, who finished with 14 points, six rebounds and one black eye courtesy of an elbow from Houston’s Dikembe Mutombo—Harpring’s former teammate in Philadelphia.
Howard finished with 25 points and Rafer Alston scored 20 for the Rockets. They were the only Houston players to score in double figures, although the shorthanded Rockets came close to all-but knocking Utah out of the playoff race.
Boozer went 1-for-2 from the free throw line with 4.3 seconds left and Houston’s Chuck Hayes, who had just missed two free throws at the other end, pulled down the rebound on the second shot and Houston called time out.
Alston dribbled at the top of the key and got a late pass off to Howard in the corner in front of the Jazz bench. By the time Howard caught the ball and took a step toward the basket, the buzzer had sounded and Howard didn’t get the ball off in time.
“Unfortunately at times things don’t work out your way and tonight we came out with a lot of fight, start to finish, unfortunately we just couldn’t pull out the victory,” Howard said.
Houston, which is out of the playoff race and hasn’t had leading scorer Tracy McGrady (back) since early March, outscored Utah in the paint 50-24 despite missing Yao for most of the game. Houston still rallied without its top two scorers after trailing 70-61 at the end of the third.
The Rockets started the fourth with a 10-0 run and led a few times down the stretch before the Jazz rallied.
Okur, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds, tried to draw a foul for Utah when he collided with Howard and dropped to the floor. There was no call and the Rockets got the loose ball, but Howard missed a short jumper and Williams pulled down the rebound for Utah. Williams made one of his two free throws with 1:11 remaining to put Utah ahead 84-83.
Alston tried a layup for Houston, but it bounced off the rim and Harpring pulled down the rebound. But the Jazz turned it over when Williams’ shot was off with the shot clock about to expire. Houston got the rebound and called time out with 23 seconds left.
Keith Bogans’ shot inside 10 seconds left was blocked by Kirilenko, but Hayes got the rebound and drew a foul from Boozer with 5.9 seconds left.
Hayes had 10 rebounds. … Houston also lost David Wesley with 5 minutes left when he was called for his sixth foul, getting Harpring as he put up a shot in the lane. … Williams had 11 points and eight assists for Utah.