Jazz go out offering precious little resistance
Right about the time Los Angeles Lakers guard Shannon Brown drove through a welcoming gap in the Jazz defense and dunked to end the first quarter Monday night, it became apparent that hope would not be found at EnergySolutions Arena.
Moments later, when Jazz guard Ronnie Price dribbled the ball off his foot and Brown dunked again, it was evident that the oxymoron "competitive sweep" would not apply as a valid description of this playoff series.
When the Jazz trailed by 19 points right before halftime and the high-volume Metallica music just sounded silly, it seemed reasonable to suggest they could go ahead and start the locker-cleanout process right then and there.
No, this would not end well: Lakers 111, Jazz 96.
Even after the Jazz managed to make things mildly interesting in the third quarter on their way out of the playoffs, the Lakers re-established themselves and moved on.
Afterward, the Jazz were left with only this rationalization: "I don't think anybody had us picked to beat 'em," said Jerry Sloan, who experienced the first sweep for a Jazz opponent since 1989, his first season as head coach.
A little more resistance might have been nice Monday, after the way the Jazz competed in the first three games.
"They're just a better team, there's no other way to put it," said Jazz guard Deron Williams. "We're a playoff team; we're not a championship team."
Consistency is not the issue. The Jazz have lost their final home game four years in a row, leaving only bitterness and disappointment in the building.
The Jazz's only redeeming element of this game was their run that cut the Lakers' lead from 22 points to five over a 10-minute stretch bridging halftime. But they faded, resulting in a celebration for the too-numerous Laker fans in the arena, who enjoyed another of the NBA's three second-round sweeps. Being down 3-0 was psychologically too much for the Jazz, Williams acknowledged.
"It's an overwhelming thing to come back from," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said before the game. "It's pounded into you, the fact that no one's ever done it."
With that backdrop, the Jazz went out and played horrible first half that left them with no reasonable chance of winning, no matter how well they responded in the third quarter.
The Lakers eliminated the Jazz for the third straight year, in incrementally fewer games. In the latest close-out affair, Pau Gasol scored 33 points for the Lakers, while Boozer fouled out after scoring only 10 points.
Remember how the Jazz exited the court Saturday, trudging the long 94 feet from the basket where Williams' jump shot and Wesley Matthews' tip bounced off the rim? That's pretty much how they played in Monday's critical second quarter. Suddenly, the Jazz were wearing that defeated look again. "We were all discouraged," Williams said.
If such a performance was somewhat understandable, it also was unacceptable. After all the good feelings the Jazz inspired in this building in the playoffs, beating Denver three times and staging an epic battle with the Lakers in Game 3, they finished with next to nothing.
The Jazz played inspired basketball for a too-brief stretch when they created some hope of a comeback. In the end, the Lakers just would not play along. The Lakers were taxed by the Jazz at times, but a 4-0 victory is still quick work.
And now? The Lakers know where they're headed, facing Phoenix in the Western Conference finals. As for the Jazz, "I don't have any idea what the future holds for this team," Sloan said.