This sorry state of the Jazz, as their series with San Antonio resumes Saturday, is the very reason that participating in the playoffs is so vital to their future.
As painful as watching the first two games of this series was, this is the only way any of us could discover anything meaningful about this team.
Now comes another checkpoint: Game 3, and how the Jazz respond to being embarrassed.
Before the series, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said no other opponent could teach his team more about playoff basketball. He also warned, “These guys are going to try and bury us.”
Good call. So the Jazz have played themselves into this position, and now we get to watch them play their way out of it. Or not.
This will get interesting, either way. As Corbin framed the issue Friday, “Who’s going to continue to fight, and who’s not? That’s what you want to see in these situations. … Fighters fight. Competitors compete. Guys that want to quit will quit.”
At the moment, nobody can be sure which label best applies to the Jazz in a playoff context. They deserve credit for successfully battling to make the playoffs, but they’ve failed to follow through.
So Corbin is saying pretty much what former coach Jerry Sloan would be saying right now. In Sloan’s favorite words: “’You find out who you are as a person. You can sit and pout or you can pick yourself up and go after it.”
Properly applied, the cold truths told by two defeats totaling 46 points in San Antonio and an “unraveling” of the Jazz, as center Al Jefferson observed, ultimately will serve a purpose in this team’s development. The Spurs are exposing them in ways that may have gone unnoticed this season, if the Jazz had barely missed the playoffs.
By overachieving, the Jazz positioned themselves to become overwhelmed by the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed through two games. That’s understandable. What’s not forgivable would be crumbling at EnergySolutions Arena, which makes Game 3 intriguing. If they respond well, regardless of how long the series lasts, learning to deal with the humiliation in San Antonio will have done them some good.
Not everybody who’s in the current playing rotation will stay with the Jazz forever, which reduces some of the value of this whole experience. But several players will be here long enough to make it worthwhile. In their own way, the Spurs will help the Jazz make some personnel decisions.
This series is not winnable for the Jazz; that’s clear. But the opportunity to establish something remains in play. That starts with not caving in when the Spurs are about to take control of the game, such as Wednesday’s 20-0 run late in the first half.
That’s when Jefferson’s description of “unraveling as a team” kicked in. It also happened to the Jazz of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer when they met San Antonio during their first playoff run — but only in the late stages of the 2007 Western Conference finals. Partly because of Derek Fisher’s leadership, those guys displayed poise that this Jazz team has not shown yet.
“When things start going bad, we just kind of get out of what we’re supposed to do,” Jefferson said, citing the Jazz’s need to “stick together” instead of becoming frustrated.
That’s a challenge, when the Spurs are scoring easily and taking away the Jazz’s offense. “San Antonio knows our plays better than we do,” Jefferson said.
Well, that’s playoff basketball, as the Jazz are learning. What they do with that knowledge is the next issue.