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Monson: Jazz now have more progress to make, God willing

First Published      Last Updated May 22 2017 03:28 pm

It is said that God doesn't care who wins and who loses basketball games, a most reasonable conclusion. But on Monday night, before Game 4 of the Jazz-Warriors semifinal playoff series, when the Jazz — facing elimination — should have pulled out all the stops, eight Warriors showed up for pregame chapel service at Vivint Smart Home Arena, and the Jazz? Well … not a soul attended.

Final score: Warriors 121, Jazz 95. The Jazz didn't have a prayer.

Afterward, one by one, those players exited the floor having absorbed one last righteous beating, one final lesson from Golden State in a fourth-and-final loss. It is presumed decision-makers in the club's front office left having been educated a bit, too.




All of the Jazz are now fully aware what they're up against for the foreseeable future with their designs on ascending to the top of the Western Conference. Exactly what they must do to make the climb is a little murkier.

During the coming offseason, which starts now, they have to first hold onto the ground they've already gained, beginning with the re-signing of Gordon Hayward. From there, there are changes and improvements to make, subtractions and additions, beyond relying on the ongoing growth of the players who were not good enough against the Warriors.

Yeah. Who is?

It's a tough ask for the Jazz, given the lofty standard set by a super team. But Dennis Lindsey, as competitive a general manager as there is, and Quin Snyder, as competitive a coach, are the last people to whine about the realities their team faces.

And those realities were on full display in Game 4.

Staring straight into the teeth of those realities, as impossible odds washed over them, the Jazz seemed motivated as much by pride as anything else. Winning the series was far beyond their sight line. Beating the Warriors one time, avoiding a sweep, not getting pushed out on their home floor, in front of their home crowd, required some imagination, a stretch of that imagination, but at least it was something to shoot for.

Keeping with a recent trend, though, the Jazz missed that shot, shooting 37 percent.

They fell behind by 24 points in the first quarter, then, characteristic of them, they fought back, closing to within six in the second half. Hayward was solid, going for 25 points. He got help from Rudy Gobert, who scored 12 and grabbed 13 boards. Dante Exum came off the bench to score 15 points, driving to the basket and hitting from deep. Shelvin Mack also pitched in with 18, making up for the absence of George Hill, who either couldn't or wouldn't play.

It all fell short.

And, so, the Jazz learned and learned some more. As Hayward said before the loss, in facing the Warriors, "You see where you have to be if you want to be a championship-contending team."

Said Snyder, afterward: "The idea is to keep growing."

Not there, yet, the Jazz players — and everyone around them — have big intentions for what lies ahead. They know how far they've come, how far they have yet to go.

As they slowly left that floor Monday night, the fans applauded them, recognizing the progress made. They had boosted their regular-season win total by 11 games, qualified for the playoffs for the first time in five years, won a playoff series for the first time in seven years, had fired through a wall of injuries that might have undone a lesser group. Two of their players had either become All-Stars or come under serious consideration for first-team all-NBA. And they got swept by the best basketball team in the world.

"I couldn't be more proud," Snyder said.

The crowd paid tribute, then, in spite of the lopsided result, even as it understood the work that remains. The players understood, too, responding, even neck-deep in postgame disappointment, to the cheers with acknowledgment back, with appreciation and applause of their own, as the crowd chanted: "Gordon Hayward, Gordon Hayward, Gordon Hayward."

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