It almost felt like ESPN’s experts and analysts felt sorry for the Utah Jazz on Sunday. And at least a bit condescending toward them.
The coverage of Game 1 of the Jazz-Spurs series was sort of like a pat on the head to the kid who unexpectedly finds himself in a pickup game against a bunch of college players who take it easy on him.
“Let’s be real,” said game analyst Doris Burke. “I mean, only twice since the first round has moved to seven-game series has a one seed been upset by an eight seed. So this was a huge task for the Utah Jazz.”
Could have been worse. The ESPN folks could have gone out of their way to make it clear they thought the Jazz had no chance, although that sort of thing might encourage viewers to tune away. And that’s the last thing TV folks want to encourage.
But certainly nobody sounded like they expected the Jazz to win Game 1, let alone win the series. Stephen A. Smith set the tone before the Spurs’ 106-91 victory when he was asked about the matchups.
“It’s not really about the matchups,” he said. “The San Antonio Spurs are clearly a superior team.”
The studio team of Jon Barry, Magic Johnson, Chris Broussard and Michael Wilbon talked about the Spurs’ chances of winning the NBA title; beating the Jazz was barely mentioned.
Burke seemed somewhat startled that Utah managed to keep it close until the middle of the third quarter.
With San Antonio leading 39-36, she said, “Doesn’t it feel like San Antonio should be up more? Utah is just hanging tough. And doesn’t that sort of capture this organization? Hang tough. Do you think people thought they’d be in the playoffs? No way. Maybe their GM. He’s probably the only guy.”
Don’t get me wrong. Burke and the rest of ESPN’s analysts weren’t saying anything the members of the local media — or Utah fans, for that matter — haven’t been saying. It’s not like locals expect the Jazz to eliminate the Spurs.
But it did seem a tad condescending at times.
Like when Burke said, “We had many experts on NBA.com, ESPN.com pick this team to finish last in the West. But the organization didn’t feel think that way, and you love that.”
Or when play-by-play man Mark Jones allowed that Utah’s “young guys are getting valuable playoff experience.”
His expectations going into the game somewhat blinded him to what actually happened. “San Antonio has led virtually from the opening tip,” Jones said with about 4½ minutes remaining.
Actually, the Spurs didn’t take the lead for good until the 4:11 mark of the first quarter. And it’s tough to call that “virtually the opening tip.”
All things considered, however, ESPN went pretty easy on the Jazz in their 106-91 loss. We’ll see how TNT treats Utah on Wednesday.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.