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Kurt Kragthorpe: Getting a little desperate is just what Jazz need to get back in series

Published May 24, 2007 3:46 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

So the Jazz are right where they were a month ago, making everybody wonder just how much longer they could last in the NBA playoffs.

As of April 24, they had lost two games in Houston by a total of 17 points, appearing overwhelmed at times and failing to perform in critical stretches.

Things changed when that series moved to EnergySolutions Arena, and the Jazz kept improving. Clearly, after losing by eight and nine points to San Antonio in the Western Conference finals, they just need to rely on the same solutions they used against the Rockets.

It would help if they were still playing the Rockets.

"It is a lot worse to be down 2-0 to the Spurs than it is to the Rockets, because they are a better team - defensively, offensively," Jazz guard Deron Williams said.

Other conclusions: Golden State skewed my view of the playoffs. The Spurs underachieved for most of the regular season. And, yes, it is time to panic - in the best sense of that word.

As the Jazz showed against Houston, desperation can be a good thing. Stopping the Spurs sufficiently to win even one game in Salt Lake City will take some creative defensive answers and more sustained effort, which is natural to expect at home.

"We can beat this team. We know that," Andrei Kirilenko insisted after Tuesday's 105-96 loss.

Whether that's delusion or inspiration, here's how they might do it Saturday:

* Do something different defensively. Funny, how our suggestions usually start with playing the guys who hardly play. Point guard Dee Brown gave the Jazz some quality minutes in the Golden State series before being injured, and he deserves a shot at defending Tony Parker for part of the second quarter, when the Spurs have done their most damage.

The Jazz have to figure out how to disrupt Parker's driving-and-dishing, whether that takes trapping, cutting him off outside the lane or, imagine this, staying home on the three-point shooters (the Spurs made 13 threes Tuesday) and forcing Parker to finish the play himself.

Parker's penetration and 14 assists came after coach Gregg Popovich "got on him about that, knowing they are packing the lane in and that our shooters are going to be open," said forward Tim Duncan, "and I thought he did a great job of using enough dribbles to draw people and find our shooters."

* Give the reserves more of a chance. Strangely, the Spurs' biggest runs have come in the second halves of those second quarters, after the starters have returned to the floor. If the Jazz can get more consistent production from Paul Millsap, Matt Harpring, Gordan Giricek and even Brown, it will help everybody, because Derek Fisher and Mehmet Okur have struggled in this series.

* Keep the crowd involved. Having the fans panic is a healthy alternative. The Jazz have weathered some tough stretches in the six home playoff games, when the crowd seemed to keep them from crumbling. That absolutely has to happen against the Spurs.

It would be nice to find out if the Jazz's decent second halves in San Antonio were their own doing, or if the Spurs were just easing off.

The Spurs obviously can turn it on when they want to. They should be ashamed for playing as poorly as they did for two-thirds of the regular season, when they trailed the Jazz in the West standings. They won 25 of their last 31 games to finish 58-24 and have accelerated in the playoffs.

I'm claiming to have been misled by two things: the Spurs' midseason slump and Golden State's first-round upset of Dallas.

I figured if the Warriors could beat the Mavericks, the West was up for grabs and everybody was pretty much even. Instead, it has become evident that Golden State's victory was a fraud, exposed by the Jazz. As for the Jazz, apparently they, too, have advanced only to the point of facing a higher-level team and having their deficiencies surface.

The regular-season records suggested San Antonio was not that much better than Houston, but we now know differently. Not only that, coach Jerry Sloan says the Spurs are better than his great Jazz teams of the 1990s.

During the Memorial Day weekend, the modern Jazz have the opportunity to help prove his theory - or disprove it. In San Antonio, the Spurs sure resembled the Jazz of old, executing crisply and making defenders look silly.

Just this once, I'm agreeing that offense is not the Jazz's biggest problem.

"We can't allow them to score so easily," Kirilenko said.

"We proved we can score against this team," Carlos Boozer said. "We haven't proved we can stop them yet. That's a little discouraging."

Discouraging is one thing, hopeless is another. By panicking just enough, the Jazz can fight off that feeling, at least temporarily.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com