And so, it has ended.
Or has it just begun?
The Jazz were finished off by the Rockets on Wednesday night at Toyota Center, on the short end of a 100-93 count and sent home for better or for worse from their first-round playoff series, having won just one of five games.
The hopeful wanted to take encouragement from the fact that the Jazz had improved over most of those games, losing by 32 points, then by 20 in Houston, then by three, and winning by 16 in Utah, and, at last, faltering on the road in a competitive elimination game by — for those devoid of arithmetic skills — seven.
Seconds after the final buzzer sounded, Chris Paul paid tribute to the Jazz, saying: “That’s a good team over there … that’s a tough team.”
That, they are.
Just not good or tough enough to beat the Rockets.
“You feel good as a coach when your team battles,” Quin Snyder said, adding: “Tonight, we didn’t have enough, but we did compete defensively.”
A couple of things became clear in this game and in this postseason: 1) The Jazz are a gutty, plucky group, a dangerous team with character that plays together and reps itself with pride and effort and strong defense, and 2) They do not have enough firepower to beat an opponent like the Rockets in a best-of-seven deal.
That much, we already knew before these playoffs commenced. Houston just underscored the point for reiteration, for everybody to plainly see.
“We got stagnant,” said Snyder. “We started the game pretty well defensively, and then went through a period where we didn’t score. When that happens, your defense has to hold you in the game, but it can only hold for so long when you’re not putting the ball in the basket.”
With those words, Snyder was not referring to Game 5. He was speaking directly after a loss to the Spurs … in December. But they darn near fit perfectly the shortcoming the Jazz suffered from in the game that punctuated their postseason.
After shooting the ball horribly over those first three playoff games, the Jazz raised their accuracy just enough in the fourth game to win. This time, they did not. And when they did not, they couldn’t quite keep up at the end, despite that noble defensive effort.
“We missed some shots,” Snyder said. “But the other team makes you miss shots. They made it hard on us.”
The Jazz missed easy, open ones, too.
Overall, they hit just 37 percent of their attempts, 23 percent from deep.
Royce O’Neale and Ricky Rubio were the only efficient shooters, making a combined 15 of 28 attempts for 35 points, in a game where more was required.
Everybody else was a combined 20 of 66.
Donovan Mitchell was the least accurate of all, going 4-for-22 for 12 points.
There was nowhere else to turn.
As the Jazz labored on the attack, especially in those painful closing minutes, like Snyder said back in December, their stout defense couldn’t protect them from defeat. The frustration at the one end adversely affected their prowess at the other.
Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey had said as this series began that while he would not overreact to a small sample size, he would be taking close notice of the happenings in the postseason and apply them to his aims during the coming offseason.
When that notebook is full of the same observations that had put a drag on the Jazz in the regular season, the evidence becomes stacked higher and higher as to what the Jazz need to do in the months ahead.
It’s not as though this thing is a mess. The Jazz have made progress since the drafting of Mitchell. They advanced this season, too, after changing the roster hardly at all. Mitchell got better, Rudy Gobert got better. But those guys need more help. That was a theme throughout. It is still.
Snyder continues to be a bright coach with the acumen to draw the most out of his individual charges, within the context of the whole team. But for the Jazz to fully utilize his acumen, as well as the emerging talents of their two stars, they must find more scorers. Otherwise, they will be wasted.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.