And so, it has ended for the Jazz.
An ugly game that got away in the second half, and then, remarkably, was almost reeled back in.
A playoff series that was dominated by a better team.
A season that even in the disappointment of four straight losses to the Spurs, the final one an 87-81 defeat at home that simply refused to be coerced into a win, could and should be recorded as a success.
Not a raging success, but a success nonetheless.
“I wouldn’t consider it a success,” Gordon Hayward said. “I consider it improvement. It’s not a success unless you win the whole thing.”
That was never in play.
It was hard for the Jazz to see the positives in the throes of defeat, a defeat that went from a 21-point margin down to a 4-pointer near the end. But the sun that set on them Monday night will also rise Tuesday morning. And a whole lot of mornings in the future.
Is that too charitable? Too optimistic?
Check out the chronology.
Following the lockout, the Jazz showed up full of either confidence or baloney, and nobody was quite sure which one was the surer bet. The players predicted a run to the playoffs, the pundits predicted a run to the lottery.
The players, as it turned out, were right.
They beat a bunch of lesser teams down the stretch to qualify for this postseason, but, once there, the Spurs were just too much.
San Antonio put up its poorest performance in the sweep on Monday night, shooting just 37 percent, being outrebounded by 14, being pushed around by the Jazz. Still, the Spurs built a lead that climbed to 13 points in the third quarter and to 21 in the fourth.
And then came that furious Jazz comeback that fell short in the closing minute, keyed by a hearty effort that had been missing for most of these games.
“We fought to try and win the game,” said Derrick Favors, who had 16 points and 10 boards. “Everyone fought.”
There was that. Unlike some of the Jazz’s weaker showings in this series, the fourth game was anything but tepid. It’s not that Utah played great — the Jazz hit only 36 percent of their shots, and were 0-for-13 from 3 — but it did drag the Spurs into the muck, where it wrestled for its playoff life.
Maybe that fact brought new substance to a playoff experience that heretofore had been a beatdown. Favors put in a terrific effort, while Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks combined to go 0-for-15 and Enes Kanter was 1-for-1. None of those three youngsters having previously lived through the intensity of the playoffs, you had to wonder whether facing San Antonio was a little like a class of kids who had just mastered multiplication heading into a class in which differentiation was on the agenda.
Is their confidence damaged?
“No,” Favors said. “We were happy to get into the playoffs.”
In reality, that’s what this season was always about — setting a foundation upon which to build in the future. It was about player development. The mild winning surprised almost everyone, except the Jazz themselves.
We can argue over whether the youngsters should have gotten more minutes, whether Ty Corbin mistakenly favored the veterans and slowed the team’s growth.
Now, it’s up to the Jazz to make themselves better with the work of the offseason ahead of them. Each one, rooks and vets alike, will be given a list of improvements to gain in the gym. If they take advantage of that, the Jazz will grow from within and boost their promising future.
“We have to improve at every position,” said Al Jefferson, who totaled 26 points and 10 rebounds. “... But we have no reason to put our heads down. We did what a lot of people thought we couldn’t do. And it’s going to get better.”
The foundation is set, then, and Game 4 showed that.
“Anytime you have a game against us, you’re going to know you’ve been in a fight,” Corbin said.
“They don’t quit,” said Gregg Popovich.
The Jazz didn’t Monday night.
Beyond the players, it’s now up to Kevin O’Connor to get the rest of the walls up and the roof nailed on. It will be worth seeing from the ground level where the ceiling for the Jazz eventually will be. At this point, that’s something none of us knows. After watching the Spurs, though, it will have to be high for Utah to ever realize Hayward’s definition of success.
GORDON MONSON hosts the “Gordon Monson Show” weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.