Monson: Jazz are chickening out against the Spurs
NBA Playoffs • Utah qualified for the postseason, but team was clearly not ready for it

By Gordon Monson

Tribune Columnist

Published: May 4, 2012 11:02AM
Updated: August 28, 2012 11:32PM
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San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili, left, of Argentina, and Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward (20) reach for a loose ball during the second quarter of Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, May 2, 2012, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

After bumping and skidding their way through what Al Jefferson properly described in the postgame as an “embarrassment,” the Jazz flew home from San Antonio late Wednesday night in a world of hurt.

Hurt confidence and hurt feelings, and hurt chances for any kind of hope in a playoff series that suddenly looks as lopsided as a Kim Kardashian cartwheel.

The Jazz will now try to boost themselves back up from subterranean levels, their predicament dug so deep by way of a listless, careless, heartless showing in Game 2. As much as Kevin O’Connor has bristled and barked at the notion that this is a rebuilding year, after what happened in the first two playoff games against the Spurs, that renovation is now undeniably an open construction zone.

We all saw the incomplete result: The Jazz were not ready for the playoffs. They qualified, all right, winning those games down the stretch of the regular season, but there is nothing regular about the postseason. Beating lesser opponents didn’t prepare the Jazz for the full fury of a rested and motivated Spurs team that humiliated them, winning by 31 points.

San Antonio could’ve taken that game by 51 if it had wanted. And the Spurs players laughed on the bench as they kicked back through the final 12 minutes.

After coach Ty Corbin promised a better effort, then, heading into Game 2, the Jazz went out and shot the ball like five blind men in a cave, ricocheting attempts all over. Worse, they gave up even trying to get to their proper spots, simply heaving up whatever, whenever, from wherever it was convenient.

All together, the Jazz shot 34 percent against the Spurs’ 57 percent.

You saw it. The game was a complete mess, decided before the first half ended. The third quarter was a crushing. The fourth looked like an uncharitable scrimmage.

The Jazz are not as good as the Spurs. OK, everybody already knew that. But what nobody knew was that the Jazz would shrink away from the fight, that they would admit they’re not playing hard. They are young and they are still growing. Still, a lot of us thought, based on what we had seen during the regular season, that the Jazz would tear into the playoffs like a bunch of wonderfully clueless kids who didn’t know they weren’t supposed to win. They wouldn’t win the series, of course, but they would be carefree enough to wage a naively innocent, valiant battle.

So far, they’ve chickened out. They’ve been outscored by the sorry count of 220-174.

The only bright side is that the Jazz have come home to play the next two games. EnergySolutions Arena is sweet tonic for this team, a place where it can play awash in the waves of support from a crowd unlike any other in the NBA. Playoff games at ESA are unique that way. In the postseason, I’ve been to games at United Center, the Rose Garden, Staples Center, Oracle Arena, Toyota Center, Pepsi Center, AT&T Center, the Alamodome, Key Arena, American Airlines Center, the old Arco Arena, the old Forum, the old McNichols Arena, the old Summit, the old L.A. Sports Arena, the old Spectrum, and I’ve never seen any crowd, anywhere, that stands behind its team with as much emotion and enthusiasm as the one here in Salt Lake City.

But as advantageous as ESA is for the Jazz, that won’t be enough to lift this group against a Spurs team that has a legitimate shot at an NBA title. The lifting, such as it is, will be up to the Jazz themselves.

The other day, Corbin said that he, as a head coach in the playoffs for the first time, will grow up alongside so many of his players, also postseason neophytes, as this series proceeds.

They’d better hurry.

If the Spurs get Game 3, this thing is over. It probably already is.

And the supposed valuable playoff experience for which the young Jazz were so eager could turn into a thoroughly forgettable endeavor. Just like Springsteen sang it, with every wish comes a curse.

It’s one thing if they lose games nearly everybody expected them to lose, but they are competitive in the attempt. It’s another if they get rolled by double digits, again and again, and wince and whimper away.

If the Jazz have actually learned from the first two blowouts against the Spurs, it will be evidenced Saturday night in the third game. They might not win, but they will honorably scrap and struggle for their playoff lives. If they haven’t, their home building won’t save them.

They may yet be early in their NBA progression, but they’re still grown men. Men who, thus far at least, have allowed themselves to be shamed, to be laughed at, as the reward they worked so hard all season to achieve punishes them at the end.

GORDON MONSON hosts the “Gordon Monson Show” weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.