The Phoenix Suns, as honest as they are talented, did not pretend the shot was planned, as if someone would believe them anyway.
“I wouldn’t lie to you,” Eddie Johnson said. “I didn’t call ‘bank.’ ”
“I can’t even lie to you and say, ‘Yeah, I knew it was going in,’ ” Kevin Johnson said of his last-second, off-balance shot Sunday.
That shot helped Phoenix overcome a 10-point deficit in the final 8:21 as the Suns beat the Utah Jazz, 104-102, in Game 5 of their playoff series and advanced to play the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Jazz, trying to come back from a two-games-to-one deficit in the series and avoid being eliminated in the first round for the second consecutive season, had a 91-81 lead with 8:21 left. That lead was the result of a 15-7 run to open the fourth quarter.
But Tom Chambers, as part of a run during which he scored 12 of 15 Phoenix points, scored on a layup with 4:04 left that pulled the Suns to within 96-94. The Jazz led, 100-99, with 1:01 remaining.
It was time for Eddie Johnson, who finished with 23 points, to improvise. Going up for the free-throw line jumper, he was hit on the right wrist by Utah’s Bobby Hansen. Johnson still got off his shot and the ball banked in with 24.5 seconds left and Johnson’s free throw gave the Suns a 102-100 lead.
Karl Malone tied the score with a 20-foot jumper from the left side with 14.9 left. The Suns called time out.
Kevin Johnson then brought the ball down court, with Suns fanned around the key and the perimeter, a spread that allows him to choose his route to the basket. Johnson spotted Mike McGee inside.
McGee caught the ball, but a pair of Jazz players converged on him. He passed the ball back to Johnson, who stood at the free throw line.
“I had to quick-shoot,” Johnson said.
So he did. He launched his shot a moment before Hansen flew by for the block. It went in, and the clock stopped at 0.8.
“My hands were cocked and my shot was ready,” said Johnson, who had 26 points, nine assists and only one turnover. “My legs were not ready, not real set, but I wanted to get rid of it because I saw Bobby Hansen coming.”
He didn’t see the result, not until Hansen was out of the way. By that time, the ball had dropped out of the bottom of the net. Teammates were celebrating all around. Johnson stood in place for a moment, stunned. The Jazz froze, too.
“Almost a blank feeling,” Malone said.
The Jazz called a 20-second timeout to set up a play. Malone put the ball in play on the far baseline to John Stockton, who launched a shot from beyond half-court. Air ball.
Utah, which lost twice at home during the playoff, now has been eliminated in the first round three of the last four years. In 1987 the Jazz became the second team in league history to blow a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series, and last season it was swept by Golden State.
“That’s when you realize you do this for a living, that this is a job,” Malone said. “It’s like the boss laid you off for four or five months.”
There were danger signals for the Jazz in the first half, when it missed six of 13 free throw attempts. For the afternoon, it missed 11 of 26.
“You can try to pick your guys to death on those kinds of situations, but it’s just something that happens in the game of basketball,” Utah Coach Jerry Sloan said. “You have winners and losers.”
The Suns declined to look ahead to the Laker series, which begins Tuesday at the Forum. That includes former Laker Mike McGee, who still owns a home in Culver City. “I have a lot of friends on that team,” McGee said. “But a job’s a job.” . . . Kevin Johnson, having apparently finally rid himself of an intestinal virus, might go into the Laker series with other problems. A collision with Utah’s Mark Eaton in Game 4 left him with a bruised hip. It still bothered him Sunday and became stiffer as the game progressed.
Utah’s John Stockton was three of 11 from the field, but had 17 assists for a five-game average of 15. . . . Tom Chambers had 32 points, 14 in the fourth quarter.