Kirilenko easily had his best game of the first round with 14 points and five blocks to lead the Utah Jazz to a 94-82 victory over the Rockets on Thursday night, tying the series and forcing a Game 7 Saturday in Houston.
“We kept it alive,” said Kirilenko, who hadn’t scored more than eight in the first five games. “I think it’s a great performance by everybody.”
“I don’t give up. If I’m open I’m going to take it,” Okur said.
Kirilenko was exhausted after trying to keep up with McGrady. The Rockets’ superstar still scored 26 points, but nine came from the foul line as Kirilenko and the rest of the Jazz pretty much shut down every route to the basket.
Utah didn’t let McGrady get much easy scoring and the Rockets fell to 0-3 in playoff road games. Yao Ming added 25 points, but he also had eight turnovers— two more than his rebound total—as Okur and rookie Paul Millsap constantly pressured the 7-foot-6 center.
The rest of the Rockets besides McGrady and Yao combined for 31 points. Houston finished with 19 turnovers.
“Our guys were fighting for our lives,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said.
McGrady has never made it to the second round of the playoffs. After Houston won the first two games of the series, the Rockets appeared on their way there, but have not been able to find their way out of Utah with a victory.
The home team has won every game in the series, which bodes well for the Rockets. That was about all the solace Houston had after cutting an 11-point lead to one twice but never quite completing the rally.
“It was right there for us, man. Down to one point,” McGrady said. “We put ourselves in great position to pull this game out, but things went the other direction.”
Deron Williams had 15 points and eight assists and rookie Paul Millsap scored all of his eight points in the second quarter, as the Jazz took control and then held off several rallies by the Rockets down the stretch.
The home team has won every game in the series, which bodes well for the Rockets as they prepare for Game 7 Saturday night at home.
“They just put a lot of pressure on us and just made everything tough,” McGrady said.
Kirilenko scored six points and blocked three shots in the fourth quarter. McGrady tried to drive on him once with the Rockets down three, but Kirilenko stayed on him and swatted the ball away during a 13-4 run that sealed it for the Jazz.
“We had a game we had to win or we were going home,” Kirilenko said. “That’s hard to play with this kind of intensity on both ends of the court, but we had to win.”
Kirilenko got a layup to roll over the front of the rim and in and added a 21-foot jumper during Utah’s late run. Yao dunked to get the Rockets within 81-76, then the Jazz answered with a jumper by Williams, two free throws by Boozer and a 3-pointer from Okur, who went 4-for-7 from beyond the arc.
“They outplayed us down the stretch. We’ve just got to get on the plane and figure out a way to play a little bit better,” Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy.
Okur had made just four of 25 3-pointers in the first five games.
Okur was intense all night and it showed in the second quarter, when he took a hard foul from Juwan Howard. Okur got Howard in the air, then went up for a shot as Howard was coming down with a forearm.
Okur crashed hard to the floor and came up almost swinging. Instead he nudged Howard and got in his face before the two players were separated. Howard was called for a technical and was livid. He got right in referee Dick Bavetta’s face and was yelling, but he was pulled away in time to avoid a second technical.
Okur made all three free throws to put Utah up 36-35. Utah led 46-43 at halftime.
Yao scored the Rockets’ first six points and also had a tip-in waived off for goaltending. … McGrady and Yao were the only Rockets to attempt free throws through the first three quarters. … Okur and Boozer both pulled down nine rebounds. … Kirilenko’s five blocks tied his playoff career high. … McGrady’s teams are 28-28 in the playoffs.