This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Posted: 3:07 PM- HOUSTON - Sitting alone at the edge of the court after the Jazz practiced for Game 2 of their first-round playoff series tonight, the team's highest-paid player cried.
Forward Andrei Kirilenko used a towel to blot away tears from his red and swollen eyes Sunday while discussing his minimal role in the Jazz's 84-75 loss to the Rockets in Game 1. Kirilenko played only 16 minutes - including only the last seven seconds of the fourth quarter.
"I want to play 48 minutes," he said.
Kirilenko, who earned $12.3 million this season in the second year of a six-year maximum-salary contract, left the game with about five minutes left in the third quarter after appearing to twist his ankle trying to block a shot. He actually endured a blow to his groin, he said, but that wasn't the reason he was on the bench while Houston's Tracy McGrady heated up and ultimately sunk the Jazz.
"I don't know," he said. "I was ready to play."
Coach Jerry Sloan said Kirilenko was playing poorly - he finished with two points, one rebound, a steal, an assist and a blocked shot - so "I have to try to play somebody who can keep us in the ballgame."
Without Kirilenko on the floor, the Jazz were left to defend McGrady with guards Derek Fisher and Gordan Giricek, and it didn't work. The Rockets took off on a 16-4 run the moment Kirilenko left the game, with McGrady scoring 10 of his 22 second-half points in the final 3:42 of the period.
"I know it's very uncomfortable for him," Sloan said. "It's uncomfortable for me. I'm not happy with it, but I don't know exactly how to handle it."
Forward Matt Harpring picked up most of the minutes at small forward with Kirilenko out, scoring 14 points with eight rebounds. But he suggested the Jazz might try to use him and Kirilenko at the same time in Game 2 - a strategy they have employed at times earlier this season and that might allow the lanky Russian to disrupt McGrady, who easily shot over Fisher and Giricek.
"Ultimately, this is definitely a coach decision," center Mehmet Okur said. "I mean, whatever he say, he's the boss. But we need AK, that's the bottom line. . . . This is going to be a long series, I believe, and definitely we're going to need him."