AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - File this away for June: The Pistons absolutely do not want to face the Jazz in the Finals.
Little too strong, perhaps? Little too out-of-the-ozone? Definitely. But while we're on the topic of absurdity and Twilight-Zone storylines, try to fathom this one: Milt Palacio and Greg Ostertag, all but flotsam on the Jazz's bench lately, step forward late in a game against the NBA's best team, on the road, one night after a dispiriting loss, and somehow pull out an overtime victory.
Oh yes, and it completes a sweep of the unbeatables.
"You can't explain our team," Matt Harpring said after Utah's 94-90 stunner over the 26-5 Pistons, a team that had lost one home game before the Jazz's visit.
"We must drive Jerry [Sloan] and the coaches crazy," Ostertag smiled about this inconsistent team.
They certainly drive Detroit crazy, and the Pistons definitely can't explain it, unless they just believed that an intimidatingly simple 30-16 first-quarter performance would scare the Jazz back onto their bus. Even Sloan wasn't certain whether his team would mentally check out after that ugly continuation of Friday's disaster in Memphis.
"I didn't know if we were going to settle down and try to play basketball, or beat them one-on-one," the coach said. But "we got some confidence back as a team and not as individuals."
The individuals got some confidence back, too. Palacio's minutes had largely disappeared over the past two weeks, and Ostertag had become merely a 7-foot-2 cheerleader. But the point guard made the critical defensive play to close regulation and then scored two big baskets in overtime, and the veteran center did enough inside (two rebounds, a block and a basket in OT) to at least make it a fair fight against Ben and Rasheed Wallace.
That two-man cavalry, along with a 24-point, 11-rebound night from Andrei Kirilenko, a 13-point (most of them clutch) and 17-rebound performance from Mehmet Okur, and Deron Williams' fourth-quarter leadership helped the Jazz overcome a rash of mistakes and recurring ineptness at the end of every quarter.
"Just trying to be ready when I get my chance," said Palacio, and he was, particularly when the Pistons put the ball in Chauncey Billups' hands for a shot at victory in regulation. With the score tied at 82 after Kirilenko converted a pair of free throws, Detroit's cocky guard had little doubt how the final 15.6 seconds would unfold.
As he stood at the scorer's table, Billups mouthed "no problem" to his Houston friend, Jazz guard Andre Owens. Then he explained to Palacio that the Jazz were doomed. "He's a good friend. He's always talking," Palacio said. "He said he was going to score. I told him we're going to OT. Simple as that."
It really was, because Billups held the ball, tried a pick-and-roll off a Ben Wallace screen, then slipped as he tried unsuccessfully to get past Palacio. He grabbed the ball back and tried to scoop it into the basket, but it bounded off the back of the rim.
"It actually felt good, but it didn't go," Billups said.
"Milt did a pretty good job just trying to keep [Billups] in front of him, making him shoot over the top," Sloan said. "He ended up taking a pretty tough shot."
The Jazz forced a lot of tough shots in overtime; good thing, since Detroit kept pulling down offensive rebounds. But while the Pistons made only four of 11 shots and missed all four three-pointers, the Jazz went 4-for-6, hit their only trey try, and earned four free throws, too.
"I can't put my finger on it. They're a tough team," Billups said of the Jazz, who finally took control for good when Okur hit a three-pointer and Ostertag converted a Palacio pass into a awkward-but-effective layup. "They play extremely hard . . . and keep you off-balance."
Palacio finished the upset with two baskets in the final 40 seconds, a 15-foot jumper and a pick-and-roll drive to the basket past Rasheed Wallace.
The late-game heroics pulled out a victory that appeared impossible after the Pistons shot 62 percent in the first quarter and took a 30-16 lead. Making it worse was the Jazz's habit of quitting for the last few minutes of each period; they were outscored 18-4 in the final two minutes of the first three quarters.
Didn't matter, once the Pistons began missing open shots - they hit only 30 percent after the first quarter - and Utah's unlikely heroes stepped forward.
"We just hung in there, that's the big thing," said Williams, who scored nine of his 14 points in the final period and overtime. "If we do that, we can beat anybody."
Bizarre as it sounds.
Reporter Phil Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more about the Jazz, go to his blog at http://blogs.sltrib.com/jazz. To write a letter about the Jazz or any sports topic, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Jazz humble defending champions
IN SHORT - The Jazz rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit, survived Detroit's last-second shot at victory, and humbled the league's best team in overtime to sweep the season series.
KEY STAT - Detroit made 62.5 percent of its shots in the first quarter, but less than half that, or 30.5 percent the rest of the way. Utah, meanwhile improved from a 30.0 percent opening period to make 45.9 percent
KEY MOMENT - After Mehmet Okur gave the Jazz their first two-point lead by making a three-pointer in overtime, Greg Ostertag rebounded a Tayshaun Prince three-pointer, sped (sort of) down the floor, and converted a Milt Palacio pass into a layup for the winning margin.
Jazz 94, Pistons 90
FG FT Reb
UTAH Min M-A M-A O-T A PF Pts
Kirilenko 48:52 8-18 5-6 3-11 7 3 24
Okur 33:35 4-12 4-5 7-17 1 0 13
Collins 19:44 1-4 1-2 3-4 1 3 3
Giricek 7:11 0-3 0-0 1-1 1 2 0
McLeod 24:56 1-6 0-0 0-1 4 1 2
Brown 23:09 4-8 1-2 1-3 4 2 9
Ostertag 30:36 4-7 1-2 4-9 1 3 9
Harpring 25:16 3-5 6-8 1-6 0 4 12
Williams 28:04 5-9 3-4 1-3 1 4 14
Palacio 22:41 4-9 0-0 0-1 2 1 8
Whaley 0:56 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Totals 265:00 34-81 21-29 21-56 22 23 94
Percentages: FG .420, FT .724. Three-Point Goals: 5-12, .417 (Kirilenko 3-5, Okur 1-2, Williams 1-2, McLeod 0-1, Brown 0-2). Team Rebounds: 8. Team Turnovers: 14 (15 PTS). Blocked Shots: 7 (Ostertag 3, Kirilenko 2, Collins, McLeod). Turnovers: 13 (Kirilenko 4, Okur 2, Brown 2, Harpring, Giricek, Ostertag, Palacio, Williams). Steals: 3 (Kirilenko, Harpring, Williams). Technical Fouls: Defensive Three Second, 6:21 third.
FG FT Reb
DETROIT Min M-A M-A O-T A PF Pts
Prince 41:21 5-12 3-4 4-5 3 3 14
RWallace 32:35 5-13 1-2 3-7 0 5 11
BWallace 49:26 2-6 0-0 8-16 1 3 4
Hamilton 44:16 7-20 3-4 3-3 8 2 18
Billups 46:13 7-21 7-8 0-4 8 2 24
McDyess 23:59 4-8 5-6 0-3 1 4 13
Evans 5:12 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0
Delfino 15:11 0-3 2-2 2-3 0 1 2
Arroyo 6:47 2-5 0-0 0-0 0 0 4
Totals 265:00 32-88 21-26 20-41 21 20 90
Percentages: FG .364, FT .808. Three-Point Goals: 5-16, .312 (Billups 3-7, Hamilton 1-3, Prince 1-4, R.Wallace 0-2). Team Rebounds: 11. Team Turnovers: 7 (4 PTS). Blocked Shots: 6 (B.Wallace 2, Delfino 2, Prince, R.Wallace). Turnovers: 6 (McDyess 2, Billups, Hamilton, Prince, Evans). Steals: 5 (McDyess 3, Billups, Hamilton). Technical Fouls: R.Wallace, 4:14 third.
Utah 16 20 19 27 12 -94
Detroit 30 14 21 17 8 -90
A - 22,076 (22,076). T - 2:28. Officials: Ron Garretson, Marc Davis, Scott Foster.