SALT LAKE CITY -- He skipped the pregame shootaround to fuel up on two IVs.
Deron feats not enough for Jazz
He was spotted leaving the training room in the morning with a hooded sweatshirt pulled tightly over his head, slightly hunched over as he trudged to his car.
He says he dropped about eight pounds on the eve of Game 4, figuring he must have food poisoning.
Oh, yeah: Deron Williams was also the best player on the floor Monday night until the fourth quarter, reminding folks that a stomach bug in Utah late in the playoffs isn't such a terrible thing.
"The young man," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, "is just incredible."
Whatever was ailing Williams isn't what hurt the Jazz in this Game 4. He might have felt sickly, but there were far bigger problems for a team that, by virtue of San Antonio's 91-79 triumph, has been shoved into a relatively hopeless 3-1 hole.
Problem No. 1: San Antonio was far more attack-minded in the final period and wound up shooting 25 free throws. Utah shot two.
Problem No. 2: From start to finish, Williams looked much more lonely than sickly.
He racked up 27 points and 10 assists and flashed copious amounts of toughness and swagger. He just didn't get enough help.
He didn't get enough early when the Spurs were setting Game 4's hugely physical tone. He got even less help in the fourth quarter when the Spurs -- having decided that they could no longer stomach Williams "slicing and dicing us," in the words of Popovich -- began to force the ball out of his hands with an extra defender, disrupting the hosts' offense.
Then Utah's poise drained away, in an eruption of frustration that saw their wisest old heads -- coach Jerry Sloan and three-ringed guard Derek Fisher -- leave the floor via ejection.
"They kept their heads," Williams said. "We were the ones getting the techs, not them. And that's why they prevailed."
That admission seemed to hurt Williams more than anything rumbling in his belly. As much as he wanted to echo the rowdies in the crowd who railed against the officiating all night -- I lost track of all the "Ref, You Suck" chants, before the locals started to pelt the floor with popcorn, miniature basketballs and any other available objects -- Williams couldn't bring himself to complain too loudly.
Frustration is understandable in the face of a free-throw disparity like the Jazz faced. The message from Williams, though, seemed to be that his team didn't play with enough fourth-quarter composure or aggression to back up a drawn-out protest.
"They showed their experience on us," said Jazz forward Carlos Boozer, concurring with Williams' assessment on a night when no one else in Jazz colors besides Williams and Boozer cracked double figures.
"They got to the line a great deal more. . . . [But] we took a lot of jump shots in the fourth quarter as well. And when they were getting free throws, we were taking jump shots."
Added Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko: "They take teams out of their rhythm. That's what they do. And eventually they took us [out of rhythm in] this game."
Indeed. The Spurs seemingly got to all the loose balls, surprised the Jazz by winning the rebound game (39-38) for the second time in four tries and rode Manu Ginobili's fourth-quarter parade to the line (11 for 13) to spoil all the storybook stuff Utah had working.
It was Jazz coach Jerry Sloan who, about an hour before the game, invoked the memory of Michael Jordan's flu-ridden brilliance here in the 1997 NBA Finals.
"We played against some guys over the years that were sick and killed us," Sloan said. "So I hope that works to our side this time."
You know what? It looked it just might work out that way for the hosts, with Williams posting a smooth 18 points in the first half and with Utah's strong third quarter wiping out almost all of San Antonio's 11-point lead.
You know what would have happened next, right? With a victory, Utah could have dredged up visions of the 2004 playoffs, when the Los Angeles Lakers lost the first two games to San Antonio, retaliated by packing the lane and banging on Tony Parker and then swung the series for good when a little guard named Derek Fisher drained an unforgettable buzzer-beater in Game 5 on the Spurs' floor.
Only now Fisher won't have the chance to try to recreate that fairy tale Wednesday night. He'll be back in San Antonio for another Game 5, but he might even be welcomed back after the way this one played out.
OK, OK. That's an exaggeration. Down in south Texas, they'll never forgive or forget the turnaround jumper that, according to Fisher, earned him a nickname that has stuck to this day: Point Four.
Yet it seems safe to suggest that the mere sight of Fisher won't spook the Spurs too much after he fouled Ginobili on a crucial three-pointer with 3:57 to go, enabling San Antonio to stretch its lead to 82-72. Multiple tangles with Ginobili and the two Ts followed, with No. 2 coming on a needlessly hard foul on Ginobili with 52.1 seconds left and the game over.
"It could have been a tied series and a whole new ballgame," said San Antonio's Tim Duncan, still sore about what Point Four did to them, even three years later.
But now? Up 3-1?
"A great position to be in," Duncan volunteered.
A healthy one, certainly.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Jazz guard Deron Williams applied hands-on defense to Tony Parker, but still the Jazz took a rare home playoff loss.
In skill sports, much like any competitive event, there are many variables that help dictate outcomes. But all things being equal, no variable impacts who wins and loses more than confidence. Confidence is a powerful ally, but it is fleeting, too. Most fans would be very surprised to learn just how often their favorite player looks the same on the outside, but inside his head he is questioning himself, his team, the situation, or his coach.
One of the best ways to get a team feeling good about itself is to play a game in front of a loud and partisan home crowd. Game 3 was a great example of this, as Detroit and Cleveland played similarly to their previous games, in terms of strategy and execution, yet each team shot better than the first two games (remember, Detroit feeds off quieting a crowd more than any other team). Detroit's improvement was slight, while Cleveland jumped from 40 percent in Game 2 to 49 percent in Game 3.
Each game has showed that the team that shot the ball better pulled out the win. Still, when the game was tight in the fourth quarter, statistics do not matter -- getting buckets does. And LeBron James, enjoying his first breakout game in the series, closed in dramatic fashion. Feeling good from his overall game coupled with a solid shooting performance heading into the fourth quarter, James looked like he wanted to take, and make, the biggest shots. After failing in Detroit, James and the Cavs made the big shots late, thanks in large part to the confidence he and they earned early in the game.
Cleveland got James in gear by looking to push on misses in the first quarter. James got a dunk off his own defensive rebound and push by using an influence screen from a hustling Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who ran hard rim to rim and occupied the middle of the paint. Bigs must run to maximize transition opportunities, whether they catch a pass or not. Then James dunked off a pass from Sasha Pavlovic, again benefitting from a hustling big, this time Drew Gooden.
After he made one of two from the line following a foul used to prevent another fast break basket, James had five points and the Cavs were up 7-0 after three minutes. That Detroit outscored Cleveland by one over the last 45 minutes is relevant -- in a series this tight any run can become the difference between winning and losing. Detroit put a halt on Cleveland's running game by getting their players back on defense, forfeiting most offensive rebounding opportunties. This will be an important area to watch in Game 4 -- if Detroit attacks the glass then the Cavs should go up-tempo again.
SALT LAKE CITY -- If Monday's Game 4 was indeed the last game to be played this season at EnergySolutions Arena, well, it was a pretty sad signoff after all the kudos this crowd has been getting throughout the playoffs.
Sorry, Utahns. But fans throwing anything on the floor, at any time, can't be pardoned.
Sorry, Utahns. Not even during a fourth quarter when the visiting team shoots 25 free throws to the home team's two.
The locals can blame the refs all they want for the disparity, but Carlos Boozer got it right when he said: ". . . When they were getting free throws, we were taking jump shots."
There might have been a dubious call here and there, in other words, but San Antonio was largely rewarded for its late aggression in this Game 4 victory.
"The fans might not have enjoyed it," said San Antonio's Robert Horry, "but it was a great game."
You could understand that lack of enjoyment for the locals, at the very least. It was Utah's first home loss in the playoffs, dropping the Jazz to 7-1, and San Antonio's first-ever playoff victory in this city in 10 tries dating to 1994.
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan had seen enough for one night, earning an ejection late in the fourth quarter.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
SALT LAKE CITY-- San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili is a clean-cut guy who looks like some Latin soap star. The Argentinean usually carries a friendly smile and always greets familiar faces with a warm handshake or a cool head nod. And while he has international fame and may even be the most popular Spur in San Antonio, he has never let the fame get to his head.
That being said, why does everyone outside of San Antonio hate this guy so much?
Well, it's because he comes up big in big games by scoring, making plays and primarily getting under the opposition's skin. And during San Antonio's 91-79 Game 4 victory over the host Utah Jazz on Monday night that brought them one win away from the NBA Finals, Ginobili got on his opposition's nerves again by scoring 11 of his 16 fourth-quarter points from the free throw line of all places.
"Manu was very aggressive in the fourth quarter and got himself open a couple times,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "His aggressiveness always helps us at the offensive end because we didn't score much in the third quarter& We needed to score in the fourth and he helped us do that.''
Ginobili has been called everything from a flopper, an instigator and a great actor as a Spur. While his strong drives to the basket may be seen like a work of art to San Antonio fans, his foes view him as a wild man who gets too many calls from fooled referees.
During the first round of the 2005 NBA playoffs, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl called Ginobili's style "ugly" and "hard to watch" because he "throws his arms up and throws his elbows into us." Nuggets fans have been booing him ever since and started a jeering trend against Ginobili that has been followed throughout the league. And on Monday night, Jazz fans even booed him as he was just checking into the game.
Ginobili entered the fourth quarter with just 6 points before he was hammered by Utah forward-center Mehmet Okur during a drive to the basket with 9:58 remaining. Like always, Ginobili just calmly got up like he was barely hit, walked calmly to the free throw line and sank two free throws to give San Antonio a 67-64 lead. Just 39 seconds later, he nailed a 3-pointer to push the Spurs 70-66.
"I don't think I did too much to get into their skin in the first three quarters," Ginobili said.
With 3:57 remaining, Ginobili was fouled by Utah's Derek Fisher while shooting a 3-pointer. A clutch Ginobili nailed all three free throws to push the Spurs ahead 82-72 with 3:57 remaining. After making a driving lay-up with 2:36 remaining to give San Antonio a comfortable 85-73 lead, he got tangled up with Fisher while running back down the court. A frustrated Fisher got slapped with a technical foul and disgruntled Utah coach Jerry Sloan was sent to the lockeroom moments later after getting his second technical.
When asked about the technicals, Sloan said: ''I don't want to talk about those because all that does is get me trouble.''
When pressed for an answer, Sloan said: ''I said I wouldn't about it, all right. Thank you. Thank you.''
In other words, Ginobili struck again and has many more haters now in Utah.
"I don't know why [Fisher] got upset," Ginobili innocently said. "I can't recall doing anything for that to happen. But you know, if that helps the team win and get a couple of easy free throws, I'm ready to do it."
Opposing players, coaches and fans can hate on Ginobili all they want. But as the rappers would say, they need to, "Stop hatin,' '' since deep down they wish they had someone on their team doing the same thing.
-- Marc J. Spears covers the NBA for The Denver Post
Putting Chris Webber down low for long stretches of the first quarter clogs things up a bit because it limits post-up chances for the perimeter guys, it hurts movement and the rhythm of their backcourt can be stymied. There are also more lanes to drive if the low post is cleared out.
In addition, Webber is not the passing threat down low that he is at the elbow. There just are not enough places for cutters to go when the ball is in the low post. During the playoffs, Webber's assists are down from three a game to 1.6 a game and he has a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Pacers are increasingly open to moving Jermaine O'Neal, according to NBA front-office sources.
What kind of package can the Lakers assemble? Lamar Odom (shoulder) and Kwame Brown (ankle) might be coming off surgeries when next season begins, but the notion that neither would remain tradeable as a result is a bit flawed.
Odom is still marketable because of his talent and versatility. As you'll recall, he also played pretty gamely through the shoulder problems late in the season and during the Phoenix series after putting off surgery to help his team. Barring unexpected problems in his recovery, why wouldn't he still be a valued commodity?