A huge mental mistake by John Stockton and key missed shots by Karl Malone and Bryon Russell severely cost the Jazz and allowed the Kings to escape with a crucial 90-87 victory and a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference first-round series.
Coming off a surprising Game Two win in Sacramento, the eighth-seeded Jazz again battled the top-seeded Kings every step of the way. They turned an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit into an 85-82 lead with 1:33 remaining on a three-point play by Malone, who scored 23 points.
The Kings regained the lead as Peja Stojakovic and Mike Bibby each made two free throws. Malone, a perennial All-Star, missed a 15-foot fadeaway jumper and the Kings rebounded with 35 seconds left.
The Jazz did not have to foul to get back the ball, but Stockton -- the star point guard who is considered one of the smartest players in the game -- hacked Stojakovic with 26 seconds to go.
"Andrei (Kirilenko) just left his man to try and come up and try to double-team the basketball," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "John, I felt, was trying to cover him. It looked like he went for the ball and lost control of himself and made the foul."
The foul was Stockton's sixth, making it doubly hurtful. As he went to the bench, he flung his arms in disappointment with himself.
"We had tried to get the ball back, and when you need to foul, you need to foul," was Stockton's only explanation.
Stojakovic, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds, made both free throws for an 88-85 lead. At the other end, Russell, a member of Utah's 1997 and 1998 teams that reached the NBA Finals, drove for a finger roll that he left short.
"Give Bryon Russell that layup and nine times out of 10, he'll make it," Jazz center Greg Ostertag said. "It's just momentum. It's hard to say. The ball just didn't bounce our way today."
Sacramento's Doug Christie twice made 1-of-2 free throws around a layup by Malone, giving the Jazz one more chance. But Rusty LaRue -- who came on for Stockton -- and Scott Padgett missed tough 3-pointers and the Kings held on.
"I probably rushed it a little bit too much," LaRue said. "I wasn't sure how much time was left."
Bibby scored 26 points and foul-plagued Chris Webber added 18 and 13 rebounds for the Kings, who are 3-0 in the Delta Center this season. They can advance to the conference semifinals for the second straight year with a win here Monday.
"We have a lot of young guys and they've never been in the position that they're favored," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "When you lose a game like that (Game Two), my biggest claim was trying to get them to realize that they can win here."
"It's been hard sitting on the bench every game in foul trouble," Webber said. "I am learning from it and it is making us stronger."
Donyell Marshall scored 16 points and Stockton added 15 and seven assists for the Jazz, who are on the verge of their second straight first-round elimination after reaching at least the conference semifinals five consecutive years.
"There are a lot of keys in a game and no one thing dictates a victory," Stockton said.
"We had opportunities," Malone said. "Some you control, some you don't, but you've still got to play through them and it's tough sometimes. Give them credit."
Sacramento survived 36 percent (26-of-73) shooting and 20 turnovers with a 55-29 edge in rebounds, including 17-5 on the offensive end. The Kings also made 33-of-38 free throws.
Even with all of their problems, the Kings still held a 79-68 lead after opening the final period with a 10-2 burst. But they went scoreless for 5:25 and the Jazz responded with 13 straight points.
Marshall had seven points in the surge, including a 3-pointer for an 81-79 lead with 3:22 left. Webber and Malone traded free throws before Bibby's layup on a great feed from Christie pulled Sacramento into an 82-82 tie with 1:47 to play.
"Even though they went ahead and even though it seemed like things weren't going our way, we were able to get through it and get a very tough win," Adelman said.
Utah scored the first seven points before Stockton had to sit with his second foul just three minutes into the contest. Led by Webber, Sacramento scored 25 of the next 35 points and eventually built a 32-21 lead after one period.
"A lot of people say that an NBA game isn't played until the last few minutes. I beg to differ," Sloan said. "I say the game is won a lot of the time (in) the first two or three minutes by how you let the other team know you are going to play. That is what they did to us and we had a difficult time getting them out of the way they wanted to play."
The Jazz pulled within 46-45 at halftime and briefly took the lead in the third quarter before settling for a 69-66 deficit entering the final period.
Scot Pollard had 11 rebounds and Vlade Divac added nine for Sacramento. Utah shot 42 percent (31-of-74) and made 19-of-26 free throws.