MONSON: Jazz not aggressive enough, and that costs them Game 4
At times, Derek Fisher sounds like some kind of oracle. A hoops sage. A veritable fountain of basketball wisdom.
He was talking about competing at the level required to win on Monday night, what it would take to capture victory and tie matters up in the Western Conference finals. The words he spoke were as true as any words ever uttered.
"To win at this time of year, it means doing whatever you need to do as a team," he said. "It's about the sacrifices you have to make to get the job done."
He mentioned nothing about picking up technical fouls, and getting tossed. But more on that later.
Well. In Game 4, it was the Spurs who made those sacrifices, who attacked the Jazz defense in the fourth quarter, and they were richly rewarded for it.
They paraded to the foul line.
Go ahead and whine about the officiating if you must, Jazz fan. Cry about the disparity in number of calls down the stretch, but San Antonio was nothing short of relentlessly aggressive until the last buzzer.
The Jazz tried, but were timid.
The result: The Spurs won, 91-79, taking ahold of the contest at the end, riding it to a 3-1 lead in a series that puts them now on the doorstep of a legitimate shot at an NBA title.
Gregg Popovich called what he saw Monday night "another hard-fought game."
And he was right.
The action - both ragged and rugged - was tight straight down to the last few minutes, when the Jazz cracked, turning the ball over and fouling when only purposeful defense would do.
"We just couldn't keep them off the free-throw line," said Jerry Sloan. " I thought our guys played their hearts out. I couldn't ask for guys to play any harder . . . I think that's what they've got to learn - every time they step on the floor, obviously you need to learn how to stick with what you are trying to do and not have the turnovers and not have the fouls that put them on the free-throw line, regardless of circumstances."
Try as the Jazz might, the youngsters could not find it within themselves to hang with the veteran Spurs in the clutch. They bricked some key shots: a Carlos Boozer miss, an Andrei Kirilenko miss, a Deron Williams miss - all while San Antonio pulled away to their double-digit margin.
Here's just one example of what went wrong: After Kirilenko's miss, which came around the four-minute mark, the Spurs up seven, Manu Ginobili was fouled from three by Fisher. That was an absolute killer.
Ginobili hit all three of those free throws, jacking the lead to 10, and the game was put on ice.
But the thing did not end without fire.
With 2:34 remaining, Sloan temporarily lost his mind courtside and picked up his second technical. He was tossed. Fisher also was nailed with a technical. He earned yet another technical a bit later and also was given the hook.
The crowd, seeing the calls its own way, chanted in unison variations of one theme: "Refs, you suck."
Problem was, the happenings on the floor were not the refs' fault. They could only be blamed on the Jazz. They, after all, were the ones committing the turnovers, they were the ones fouling, they were the ones who lost their cool and the game.
Sloan would not address the technicals afterward, saying: "I don't talk about those because all that does is give me more trouble."
Pressed again, he declared: "I said I wouldn't talk about it."
There will be plenty of talk by others about the facts that the Spurs shot 25 free throws in the fourth quarter, making 19, all while the Jazz got two foul shots, making one, over that same span. Manu Ginobili, alone, made 11 of 13 attempts.
Again, complain about the calls if you have to, but the Spurs ran straight at and through the Jazz defense down the stretch, putting themselves in position to get the calls. And they got them.
The Jazz were not aggressive.
And it cost them - big time.