Kragthorpe: Jazz were good enough to beat Heat, Spurs
In December, the San Antonio Spurs came to town with a fully healthy, fully participating roster of players and melted down in the final four minutes of a 99-96 loss to the Jazz.
In January, the Miami Heat visited EnergySolutions Arena after a day off and fell behind by 21 points late in the third quarter before staging a futile rally in a 104-97 defeat.
These are your NBA Finals contestants.
Viewed in the context of the NBA season, those performances are easily rationalized. Nobody goes undefeated in this league, obviously, and those snapshots of the season offer few definitive clues about how the Spurs-Heat series will play out (Miami in six is my pick).
But what do those games tell us about the 2012-13 Jazz, who stopped playing seven weeks ago and are about to be dismantled and reassembled in some fashion?
Five conclusions, with some favorable memories and unanswerable questions:
• The Jazz were a good home team.
Only the Jazz, Memphis, Detroit and the Los Angeles Clippers beat San Antonio and Miami in every home opportunity in 2012-13. Catching the Heat in the first half of the season is part of the formula, as Miami went 42-4 after losing in Salt Lake City.
But the Jazz usually played with toughness and poise at ESA, where they went 30-11, compared with 13-28 on the road. That's where improvement must come, as the Jazz remake themselves.
• They relied heavily on Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
Jefferson scored a lot of hollow points that make his numbers deceiving, but he was very good in those landmark wins, with efficient shooting resulting in 44 total points. Millsap faded late in the season, but he delivered in those games with 41 points and 21 rebounds.
So if those two depart via free agency, as expected, reality will hit Jazzland. Nobody can say for sure what Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will produce in the absence of those guys. There's just not enough evidence. And that uncertainty is the side effect of the all-out effort to beat teams such as Miami and San Antonio, which seemed like a good idea at the time.
• Gordon Hayward is a proven finisher.
As those games wound down, no player was more valuable than Hayward. In that bizarre fourth quarter against Miami, as the lead dwindled from 19 points to two before the Jazz responded, Hayward made three baskets and his teammates went a combined 1 for 12. Hayward totaled 41 points in the two victories, including a 3-pointer after the Jazz trailed San Antonio by eight in the last four minutes and a floating shot that LeBron James goaltended when the Jazz were reeling against Miami.
• The Jazz were capable, but inconsistent.
That's true of just about everybody in this league. If Detroit could beat San Antonio and Miami and finish 29-53, that says something about the NBA. And even though the Jazz defeated the Spurs, the Heat and Oklahoma City, they generally played to their ability level, having trouble with playoff teams and feasting on the downtrodden clubs.
• Tyrone Corbin is capable, but unproven.
In each of his two full seasons as the Jazz's coach, Corbin has beaten the eventual NBA Finals participants. Conveniently, this season's two victories serve as evidence for both his backers and detractors. Against the Spurs, after a timeout that followed Mo Williams' miss and Millsap's rebound, the winning shot came when Williams simply dribbled in place and launched another 3-pointer over Danny Green at the buzzer.
Against Miami, Corbin appeared helpless in trying to fight off the Heat's rally, even with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the bench.
Then again, Corbin succeeded in helping the Jazz build that 21-point lead. So even the biggest wins of his career make it difficult to accurately judge Corbin's work.
The consolation? In 2013-14, we'll be able to see what he can do with a worse team.
O June 27, 5 p.m.
TV • ESPN