This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The end of the celebration - the end of the season, realistically - did not come suddenly or dramatically.
Rather, it arrived painfully and agonizingly.
When it all came slowly crashing down for the Jazz in the fourth quarter Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena, the whole scene became ugly and embarrassing - on the court, in the seats, on the sideline.
All the good things the Jazz did in the playoffs over the last five weeks, all the positive support they generated in winning seven home games in a row, gradually crumbled as the San Antonio Spurs pulled away to a 91-79 victory, essentially wrapping up the Western Conference finals.
The Jazz left the court amid resounding boos - directed at the referees, not at them - but it was certainly not the kind of send-off they deserved after what was certainly their last home game.
The funny thing is, everything was falling into perfect order for the Jazz, going into those final 12 minutes. Having charged back in the third quarter, the Jazz were seemingly ready to even this series, and then who knows what might have happened?
Oh, and just imagine the stories that would be told about Game 4: how Jazz guard Deron Williams did the Michael Jordan thing, rallying from illness to play courageously ("I felt my team needed me, and I wanted to be out there," he said); how he set up Derek Fisher for a critical three-pointer from the right corner, right where Fisher had drilled one in the Golden State series when he arrived late after attending to his infant daughter's cancer treatment; how the Jazz completed yet another second-half surge in these playoffs.
Instead, reality hit home. Hard.
As well as he played, finishing with 27 points and 10 assists, Williams missed two shots and lost the ball in a sequence of three possessions when the game was there for the taking. And when he passed to Fisher in transition with the Jazz trailing by four points with five minutes to go, the ball bounced off the rim.
The Jazz's rally was over. The ugliness was just beginning. After the Jazz had cut a 10-point lead to 63-62 and everyone in the building was primed for a riveting, every-possession-counts final period, nobody would have guessed that the game would end with coach Jerry Sloan and Fisher in the locker room after being ejected with two technical fouls each, and the fans, who responded so wonderfully in creating a home-court advantage for eight playoff games, directing repeated chants at the referees.
The lasting image of this sequence of these home playoff games should not be of Sloan or Fisher walking through the tunnel or anything else that went wrong, but of Williams, limping off the court late in the game after his body finally gave out. In terms of human drama under adversity, this was not quite like Jordan, scoring 38 against the Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals. It was not like LeBron James, scoring 51 against them last season. It was not even like Jazz center Mehmet Okur, scoring 14 fourth-quarter points to force overtime against New York in February.
But it was great stuff, just the same.
"I am really proud of him," said teammate Carlos Boozer. "He gave everything he had."
Williams "is a very competitive guy," Sloan said. "And I am happy for him, happy for our team that we're still playing and that they will, hopefully, rise up and find some way to try to win another ballgame."
That's asking a lot. Too much, frankly. Too bad it had to end this way.