Kragthorpe: Jazz's identity tied to Spurs' performance

Published May 14, 2012 12:46 pm

NBA •If San Antonio continues to roll, Utah will gain legitimacy.
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Jazz center Al Jefferson already got in trouble for saying the San Antonio Spurs were unbeatable while the Jazz were still trying to play against them. So what happens when somebody actually beats the Spurs?

Clearly, the Jazz's self-image is tied to what the Spurs go on to do in the NBA playoffs. If San Antonio handles Memphis or the Los Angeles Clippers and then defeats Oklahoma City, the Jazz and their followers can more easily dismiss the Spurs' first-round sweep and anticipate their future.

Jefferson will have earned both forgiveness and credibility, although it is obvious he was questioned during his exit interview about saying before Game 4 that the Spurs were just too good. General manager Kevin O'Connor vaguely referenced Jefferson's comments afterward, saying he was disappointed his team "deferred" to the Spurs and gave them too much respect.

In any case, the Jazz will feel better about themselves if the Spurs mow down the rest of the Western Conference.

Nobody plays vicarious basketball better than the Jazz. O'Connor points to the Jazz's having lost recently in the playoffs to four teams — the 2007 Spurs, the '08 Los Angeles Lakers, the '09 Lakers and the '10 Lakers — that reached the NBA Finals, with all but the '08 Lakers winning championships.

But if the Spurs struggle with the Clippers or Grizzlies and lose to the Thunder, the Jazz will have to recognize they'll be dealing with those rising teams in the West for years to come.

Other news and commentary, as the playoffs continue without the Jazz:

Carlos Boozer fails again.

With the Chicago Bulls missing Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, this was Boozer's big opportunity to deliver. He could not do it.

Boozer's 1-for-11 shooting in Game 6 against Philadelphia led coach Tom Thibodeau to bench him for the fourth quarter, resulting in another bad ending for Boozer and the Bulls. The fact is they should have beaten the 76ers and forced a Game 7, giving Boozer a chance to redeem himself.

But the Bulls found a way to lose after taking a three-point lead in the last 25 seconds, and Boozer will have to live with another playoff failure after being blamed for much of the troubles against Miami in the Eastern Conference finals last May.

In a combined 43 minutes Thursday, Boozer and ex-Jazz teammates Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer totaled three points.

Derek Fisher thrives again.

My prediction in early April that the Jazz would be bounced from the playoffs by Oklahoma City was barely off, which is probably good. Jazz fans still bitter about his departure five years ago could not have handled Fisher's ousting the Jazz again, as he did to Dallas.

In the Thunder's first-round sweep, Fisher made 14 of 24 shots and averaged 8.3 points in 23.8 minutes. That's a healthy contribution for a guy who was traded by the Lakers in March, then basically discarded by Houston before signing with Oklahoma City.

Jim Boylen's in Miami again.

Aside from the new contract he received soon afterward, Boylen's University of Utah tenure was never the same after the Utes visited American Airlines Arena in Miami in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. The Utes lost 84-71 to No. 12 seed Arizona, and Boylen was fired two years later.

Now an Indiana assistant coach, Boylen has another postseason opportunity in Miami, facing the Heat. Frank Vogel's staff has done one of the NBA's best coaching jobs this season and Boylen is credited with center Roy Hibbert's improvement to an All-Star level.

But the Pacers are biting off a lot against the Heat in the building where an Arizona team led by current NBA players Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill beat the Utes.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt