They tried to pretend Friday night, to act as though they had to win Game 6. But they whiffed on that bit of deception, surviving a forgettable performance. Elimination from the postseason now is as true and authentic and serious as an open Chris Paul 19-footer. A single loss and they'll be jetting off to ramble around their villas in the Mediterranean. And who can bear the thought of that?
Not these guys, they said during the postgame. They felt the disappointment of a missed chance. "We had a great opportunity to close out and move on to the next round," George Hill said. "That's the hardest thing to do is close teams out, especially when they're desperate."
They claimed they welcome the work left undone. Said Gordon Hayward: "If you were to have told me at the beginning of the year, 'You'll be in a Game 7 against the Clippers in L.A.,' I would have been, like, bring it on."
So the Jazz's season of self-discovery will reach a crescendo Sunday afternoon.
The Jazz will look to dig deep to find the resolve to win a game that really will be their last if they don't. So much already has been accomplished this season — 51 wins, three more during the playoffs, all while fighting off all manner of injuries, and pressing on to achieve what will be considered, even were it through a fog of late disappointment, a successful campaign regardless of whether they end up losing to the Clippers.
Then note this moment in time. It will be, if it happens that way, the last time for the foreseeable future that a first-round loss in the postseason will be thought acceptable, particularly if Hayward sticks around. The NBA, after all, is a rite-of-passage league, a league in which a team must pay its dues as it goes, step by step, typically without consuming everything in one bite.
The Jazz have done enough for one calendar year to paint it as progress. If they beat the Clippers in Game 7, it's a big bonus — with the reward of then facing the planet's best basketball team. Which is a little like winning the lottery and finding out the grand prize is stepping into the ring for three rounds with the young Mike Tyson.
Come what may Sunday, the Jazz are, sooner or later, going to get knocked out.
It's the lessons they learn on their way to that deep sleep that matter most.
Getting a mulligan and facing down the demons that cursed them in Game 6 — jangled open mid-range shots and blown 3-pointers from the wings, limited scoring from role and bench players who straight gagged, untangling a Clippers defense that wrapped and jammed the perimeter and missing 11 free throws.
The balanced scoring that had blessed the Jazz in past games was lost to the Clips. Hayward got 31 points, Hill 22, Rudy Gobert 15. But the point production cratered after that, with Joe Johnson scoring nine on 3-of-9 shooting, Rodney Hood scoring four on 2-of-10 shooting, Derrick Favors scoring two on 1-of-6 shooting and Joe Ingles scoring zero points on 0-for-4 shooting.
That's not good enough.
"I'm not sure if we got tired or we got tired of missing," coach Quin Snyder said. "… Their physicality at the defensive end, we didn't respond offensively the way we needed to or as forceful as we needed to be. When you're not aggressive enough in your frame of mind, I don't think you shoot the ball as well."
Using Hayward's vernacular, if someone had said beforehand the Johnson-Hood-Favors-Ingles bunch would produce 15 points on combined shooting of 6-for-29 overall and 1 for 13 from deep, Friday's final count would have been expected.
The question centers on whether to credit the Clippers' defense or to blame the Jazz for their all-fired scattered shooting. The answer is somewhere in the middle, but not so neutral as to absolve the Jazz for their inaccuracy. They appeared nervous and unsure on many of those attempts, a few of which might have limited opposition runs that did far more damage than they should have.