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Kurt Kragthorpe: Utah Jazz benefit from exposure to Spurs' greatness

Published May 8, 2012 12:26 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Late in the first quarter Monday night, Jazz forward Derrick Favors soared to block Tiago Splitter's dunk attempt, then guard Devin Harris raced down the court and delivered a pass that sailed high and out of bounds.

If there was a snapshot of Game 4 — and this whole series, really — that was it. Even when the Jazz managed to do something right, everything eventually went wrong.

San Antonio's 87-81 victory at EnergySolutions Arena gave the Spurs a convincing sweep of the series.

Whether you mostly blame the Jazz or credit San Antonio, the trend was clear from start to finish. The Jazz just never could sustain anything against a tough opponent.

Wouldn't you know, the Jazz's most memorable stretch of the series came at the very end, too late and starting from too far behind. After their 19-2 run cut the lead to four points, Paul Millsap lost the ball on a drive in the final 22 seconds and whatever remained of the Jazz's hopes was gone.

In the end, Jazz center Al Jefferson was absolutely right. The Spurs were just too good. Harris' description of the series as "a good thing to go through" will have to stand as a summary of the Jazz's postseason benefits.

The Jazz at least were competitive at home, in contrast to the two games in San Antonio. Yet every time the Spurs were in mild danger in these two contests at ESA, they responded.

After that Harris turnover, the Spurs scored the last seven points of the first quarter, taking a 22-19 lead. In the third period, the Jazz rallied from 13 points down to pull within three, only to fade and trail by 10 entering that final period.

San Antonio's lead just kept growing until the Jazz finally figured out something and came to life, although desperation could carry them only so far. The game's closing sequence left the Spurs mildly shaken and Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin proud of his team, while giving the ESA crowd a more favorable final impression.

There's still no dismissing San Antonio's domination of this series. The Spurs won four games by an average of 16 points.

Corbin showed a willingness to adjust in Game 4, starting Derrick Favors (16 points, 10 rebounds) up front with Jefferson (26 points) and Paul Millsap, who struggled with 4-for-17 shooting. So that strategy partly worked, but the Jazz struggled elsewhere. Alec Burks and Gordon Hayward went a combined 0-for-15, further making the point that the Jazz's outside shooting is the biggest issue to solve over the summer, among other shortcomings.

Ultimately, this season and this series served to illustrate how far the Jazz have come and how far they have to go. The Jazz were exposed by San Antonio to a degree that makes it tempting to say they would have been better off missing the playoffs and feeling better about themselves.

No, no, no. They had to subject themselves to the Spurs' greatness to recognize the NBA's elite level.

In the context of playoff sweeps in Jazz history, this is more forgivable than losing to Golden State in the first round in Jerry Sloan's first season as coach in 1989, but worse than falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of what became Sloan's last postseason in 2010.

The consolation is Corbin's playoff record can only get better. Same for his team. After what the Spurs did to them, the Jazz understand what it takes now.

As the offseason arrived Monday, that knowledge was equally encouraging and discouraging.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.comTwitter: @tribkurt