KRAGTHORPE: Win or lose, Jazz made memories
If the Western Conference finals somehow last beyond tonight in San Antonio, I'm fully willing to have my Eva Longoria moment in the tunnel after Monday's game drop off the list of the most memorable scenes of the Jazz's longest playoff run in nine years, replaced by even greater drama.
Yet if it all ends tonight for them - and how could anyone reasonably expect otherwise, at this point? - the Jazz have certainly packed some lasting images into these going on 17 games, providing all kinds of material to review and savor, while creating hope for future postseasons.
"We're still fighting; don't get me wrong at all, we're still trying to win this thing . . . but win, lose or draw, I think the guys on this team have learned a great deal from these playoffs and this series in particular," forward Carlos Boozer was saying Tuesday, "and I think we'll be a better team because of it, regardless."
We've learned a lot about them too. These are the moments that will stick with me, regardless:
* Derek Fisher's entrance. His arrival during Game 2 against Golden State was much anticipated after he spent two days in New York attending to his infant daughter's cancer treatment. Here came Fisher through the tunnel late in the third quarter, barely pausing at the bench before checking into the game amid a loud, sustained response from fans who had some idea what he was going through but no genuine knowledge.
The rest was just a bonus, including Fisher's three-pointer that helped secure the Jazz's overtime victory.
Is it time for another miracle tonight, with Tatum's father flying from New York to join his teammates in San Antonio? I'd settle for good news from her checkup.
* Deron Williams' competitiveness. He hardly warmed up, shared only a half-hearted chest bump with teammate Dee Brown during introductions, and then went out and delivered another tremendous effort with 27 points and 10 assists in Monday's Game 4 against San Antonio, while suffering from food poisoning. It would be the stuff of legend if not for the Jazz losing, and it illustrated how Williams has grown during these playoffs, shaking off his 1-for-11 shooting in the closeout game against Golden State.
* Boozer's consistency. Finding one moment to define Boozer's work is difficult, because he has done so much. But nothing did the Jazz more good than his two offensive rebounds at the end of Game 7 in Houston, topping his 35-point, 14-rebound response to the biggest opportunity of his career. The rehabilitation of Boozer's image was completed, forever.
* The EnergySolutions Arena atmosphere. The fans made it fun for every home game, being involved in every possession and erupting at just the right times. But if I credit them for willing the Jazz to victory, I have to criticize them for derogatory chants - don't tell me that was a minority of the fans - and other acts that spoiled some of the community celebration.
Saying he was "disappointed" with that aspect of the crowd's behavior, coach Jerry Sloan added, "I think that's still out of place for our league . . . but I can't control that. I just have an opinion about it."
So do I. Since when do Utahns think we have to act like everybody else?
* Matt Harpring's stat sheet. The paper was crumpled, floating in the bucket of ice he soaked his feet in after Game 5 in Houston, evidence of the Jazz's anger after coming close and losing again. They channeled that frustration into two victories, making these last 3 1/2 weeks possible.
* Other scenes that have told the stories of this team: Mehmet Okur's determined defense against Yao Ming in the Houston series; Brown bravely staggering off the court after Okur landed on his neck; Andrei Kirilenko scrambling for loose balls.
I've loved watching all of it. The biggest trouble with Monday's fourth quarter is this series suddenly skipped way ahead toward the ending, just when it was getting good. Eva Longoria, fiance Tony Parker and the rest of the Spurs are ready to move on after tonight. I'm not.