HOUSTON (AP)—The young Utah Jazz are moving on in the NBA playoffs with a new point guard and power forward combination.
With fresh faces—but the same, old coach—the Jazz beat the Houston Rockets 103-99 on Saturday night to clinch their first playoff series victory since 2000—when John Stockton and Karl Malone were still running the pick-and-roll.
Boozer had 35 points, 14 rebounds and five assists and Williams had 20 points and 14 assists as the Jazz became only the seventh team since 2001 to come back from a 2-0 deficit and win a series.
“We have to finish up and see where we end up and then look back,” Boozer said. “If we get too excited, we won’t be having too much more success. We have to stay hungry, otherwise, we’ll be going home soon, too.”
The Jazz also became just the 19th visiting team to win in 97 Game 7s in playoff history, a significant step for a franchise that hadn’t even been to the playoffs since 2003.
“It’s a great win for our young guys,” said Utah coach Jerry Sloan, in his 20th season in Utah. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Tracy McGrady, meanwhile, was left to ponder another playoff failure. The seven-time All-Star had 29 points and 13 assists, but he fell to 0-6 in the playoffs.
The Rockets—his Rockets—also blew a 2-0 lead for the second time in three seasons. They won twice in Dallas in 2005, then dropped the series in seven games.
“Right now, it’s a lot of hurt,” McGrady said. “It feels good that we competed the way we did and pushed seven games. But on the other hand, it was just disappointing.”
McGrady boldly said before the series that he should take the blame if the Rockets lost this one. He also said he’d never had a better chance in 10 seasons to make a deep postseason run.
“I tried, man, I tried,” he said after four minutes of questions from reporters.
He stopped before saying any more, drooped his head as a tear trickled down his face, then walked out of the interview room.
The home team had won the previous six games in this series, but all the games at the Toyota Center had gone down to the wire.
This game was the closest one of all. This time, Boozer and the Jazz came up with the plays to finally break through.
Boozer grabbed two key offensive rebounds in the final 90 seconds, then hit two free throws with 19.9 seconds left to seal the victory and silence the capacity crowd in Houston for the last time.
“All we had to do was stay focused,” Boozer said. “If we had broken down like before, missed a couple more assignments, missed a couple more shots, what have you, they’d be up here celebrating instead of us.”
The Rockets are as much Yao’s team as they are McGrady’s and Yao was almost as despondent as McGrady afterward.
“Whatever we hear, if it hurts, it hurts,” Yao said of the inevitable scrutiny. “There is no short cut. The only way to go through this is if you get the next chance, don’t let it pass.”
The Jazz will open the second round against Golden State on Monday night in Salt Lake City. The teams split four games during the regular season.
The Rockets trailed by 16 in the first half as the Jazz threatened to turn the deciding game into a rout.
Yao and McGrady both came out attacking the basket in the second half, scoring 13 of Houston’s first 15 points, all on dunks and layups.
Yao hyperextended his right knee trying to stop Williams on a drive and went to the floor. After a few nervous minutes for the fans, Yao stayed in the game and promptly blocked a Boozer shot.
The Jazz led 75-67 after three quarters, but Yao and McGrady each scored to start a 7-0 run in the opening minutes of the fourth.
Rafer Alston banked in a 3-pointer with 8:38 left to force an 80-80 tie. On the Rockets’ next trip, Yao got fouled on an offensive rebound and hit two free throws to give Houston its first lead since the opening minute.
Boozer and McGrady traded acrobatic shots over the next two minutes and Boozer cut Houston’s lead to 88-85 on a strong drive past Battier. Juwan Howard missed a jumper at the other end before Andrei Kirilenko sank a 3-pointer with 5:05 remaining to tie the game at 88-all.
Two minutes later, Okur made a 3-pointer from the wing to give Utah the lead for good. The Rockets cut it to one twice, but Boozer outjumped the 7-foot-6 Yao for an offensive rebound.
“At that time of the game, it seemed like every play could be the clincher,” Boozer said.
Okur finished that possession with a 3-pointer from the wing, putting the Jazz up 99-95. Yao hit two free throws with 57.8 seconds left, but Boozer grabbed another offensive board and hit two free throws with 19.9 seconds to go.
“For us to go out and compete like we did, in some sense, it feels good,” McGrady said. “On the other hand, it’s just disappointing.”
The Jazz led all seven games at halftime. … Hakeem Olajuwon, who led the Rockets to championships in 1994 and ’95, had a courtside seat next to team owner Les Alexander. … Utah beat Houston in the playoffs for the fourth time in six meetings.