GORDON MONSON: Experienced Spurs schooling Jazz
SAN ANTONIO - Much has been made of the similarities between the Jazz and the Spurs. But, as of Tuesday night, and long before, that's all just a colorful little footnote. It's the off-ramp to the world's biggest ball of twine on destiny's 10-lane freeway. Little more than a thing that makes you go hmmm.
Two tough, inexorable, veteran coaches. Two strong power forwards. Two gifted point guards. Two helpful benches. Two steady, boring offensive approaches that favor substance over style. Two teams that play together. Two smaller-market franchises.
None of it really matters, on account of one major difference - other than a conceded talent edge favoring San Antonio - and the difference is . . .
We'll get to that in a minute.
First, the evidences of the difference.
The Spurs were victorious in Game 2 here, beating the Jazz for the 18th consecutive time on their home court, and going up 2-zip in the Western Conference finals.
The numbers on the board: 105-96.
This game followed the same blueprint as the first contest - with the Jazz hanging on in the first quarter, but then, disintegrating in the second, and fighting like mad to close the gap in the back half.
Tony Parker went berserk this time around, hitting all his first-half shots, driving hard and dishing to an assortment of open teammates - comfortably positioned at the three-point line and under the basket.
The Spurs' lead stretched to 58-41 by the break, and later, the Jazz beat and beat and beat the bushes to close that margin down to seven in the fourth.
That was as tight as it got.
Parker wound up with 17 points and 14 assists. Tim Duncan added 26 points and 14 boards, Manu Ginobili got 17 points.
San Antonio shot 56 percent overall, and 50 percent from three, hitting 13 bombs, some of which built that large lead, some of which preserved a narrower one at the end. The Spurs also outrebounded the Jazz and rolled up more assists.
The Jazz, on the other hand, shot 44 percent, took too many dubious shots for Jerry Sloan's liking, and listed early.
"We put ourselves too far in a hole," said Matt Harpring.
"They took advantage of our inability to see what was going on," Sloan said.
Ultimately, the margin between the teams came down to the aforementioned primary difference Tuesday night: One team has done all this before, the other . . . well, school's still in session.
That sounds trite and lame and hackneyed. After all, the best team wins, plain and simple, right? Nobody invited Grandpa and his friends to the party. Although the Spurs are the oldest team in the NBA.
Most of them have battled through the complexities of playing under these difficult circumstances many times. The young Jazz, not so much.
The Jazz know how to battle - "They are a tough team, they keep fighting," Ginobili said - but they lack savvy.
Jazz owner Larry Miller said that when his club first matriculated through the layers of the playoffs, all the way to the Finals, in the late '90s, he was shocked by the changed nature, the increased hullabaloo and pressure that emanated from each subsequent round.
It's real and the players now are fully aware - and trying to adapt. But, too often, they lacked judgment in Game 2: "We'd shoot ourselves in the foot," Sloan said.
The Jazz, as presently constituted, have played in less than a third as many playoff games as the Spurs. Mistakes and vacuous stretches are the result.
They are inevitable. That's not an excuse, it's a fact.
Only Derek Fisher and Mehmet Okur have experienced championships, and those two veterans mysteriously made just five of 22 shots between them. The Jazz have much more to learn about postseason play.
It was Mark Twain who said: "A man who carries a cat by its tail learns something he can learn in no other way."
Right now, the Jazz are carrying that cat.
They are absorbing as much as they can as quickly as they can. Meanwhile, the Spurs are just winning games.
And that's the significant difference that eclipses all the similarities between the two.