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Ronnie Price

Ronnie Price

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Click photo to enlargeLos Angeles - Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap (24) gets his shot rejected by Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum (17) during first half action of game 5 of the Jazz Lakers NBA playoffs at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Monday Apr 27, 2009.

Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune 4/27/09 �12�RelatedUtah JazzApr 28:Game overJazz have no choice but to changeApr 27:Sloan in favor of intact team?Busy offseason awaiting Jazz Los Angeles As the Jazz tried valiantly to fight off the certain conclusion of their season with a fourth-quarter rally led by reserves Monday night, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer just watched from the bench.

The feisty effort by little-used guard Ronnie Price, Paul Millsap and others created a strange scene for the likely end of an era in Jazz history.

The Jazz came from 22 points down in the second half to get within six in the last three minutes before their repeated near-misses on driving shots enabled the Lakers to survive and advance from this best-of-seven series with a 107-96 victory at the Staples Center.

The rally made memories of Game 5 far more tolerable for the Jazz, whose regulars seemed content to settle for finding the finish line.

It still brought about the end of a season that was supposed to serve as a sign of their growth.

Instead, the calendar told of the cruel truth about the organization's progress: Two years later, this team is one month worse.

Having played until late May in 2007, the Jazz were are already done in '09 as the second team eliminated from the NBA playoffs.

Before the Price-inspired rally forced the Lakers to bring back their all their starters midway through the fourth quarter, this looked like nothing more than a mandatory exercise as the Jazz headed home and L.A.

moved on to greater challenges.

This is probably the end for the modern-day Jazz of Williams, AdvertisementBoozer, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur.

This group won an average of 51 regular-season games over three years and claimed a total of 16 playoff victories.

That's counting one postseason win this year, and that's all.

All those memorable playoff moments the Jazz produced -- the Game 7 victory in Houston, the close-out victories over Golden State and Houston, the six competitive games with the Lakers last spring -- seem so distant, now that the Lakers have shoved them aside again.

The latest problem was not so much how the Jazz played against the Lakers for these nine days, although they certainly would have liked to piece together a more complete game at some point, just to see what would happen.

The finale was another example of never knowing what anybody could or would deliver, as key players struggled and then Price came out of cold storage to make it interesting.

Ultimately, the issue was the Jazz's drawing the Lakers in the first place.

Even in a hopeless cause, this series illustrated what the Jazz might have done this season with a healthy, engaged Boozer for the whole year.

The irony is that Golden State's upset of Dallas as a No.

8 seed two years now serves only to mock the Jazz as having regressed.

Reaching the Western Conference finals was deceiving, as we know now, but it made the Jazz appear to be a team on the rise.

Instead, the Lakers got in their way each of the next two years, at increasingly earlier stages.

So now what? As Williams said before the series, "This could be a totally different team next year." This game in Los Angeles did not quite have the feel of six years ago in Sacramento, where everybody knew John Stockton's retirement was imminent and Karl Malone's departure was likely, but there still was the sense that this was the last shot for this team as we know it.

And as this brief playoff appearance ended, the only improvement over 2007 was the final score of the last game, which was more acceptable than the 25-point defeat in San Antonio.

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