Closure was a tempting and ultimately harsh, bitter mistress for the Jazz on Sunday night, as the dark silhouette of advancement in the playoffs stood in a backlit doorway, like Marlene Dietrich puffing on an elongated cigarette, beckoning the Jazz to come hither, heel turned and lips puckered up.
What a tease.
That door, smoke and all, got slammed in their faces, compliments of the Nuggets, 119-107.
Forgive the 1930s reference, but it seems like that long ago since the Jazz closed out a playoff series. They may yet do it here, but Game 6 marked the second consecutive chance they had to eliminate Denver, to no avail.
That lopsided 3-1 lead they had a week ago?
“We’ve got to be determined to attack,” Quin Snyder said, afterward. " … We’ve got to trust each other.”
He added: “We have to bounce back emotionally.”
Indeed, now it’s the Jazz, as well as the Nuggets, who face elimination from the postseason and eviction from the bubble, where they’ve all been practicing, playing, existing since the first week of July.
The manner in which the Jazz fell from their advantage to their current predicament on Sunday has grown familiar during this series — with one team flat outscoring the other.
Defense was never much of a calling card here. And unfortunately for the Jazz, that became punitive for them, again, what with the way they could not keep up. If they do find a way to get past the Nuggets, no given, they had best conjure some defense in the next round, against the Clippers, a more formidable opponent, an opponent that will put a greater emphasis on and have a propensity for interrupting the Jazz’s flow on attack.
Utah’s flow suffered in Game 6.
But it was as much the Jazz’s fault as the Nuggets’ ruggedness. They tried to utilize ball movement but too often that ball got sticky, with too many Jazz players attempting to do too much themselves. And that hurt their efficiency, the Jazz for the first time in this series losing accuracy, shooting just 45 percent.
Donovan Mitchell was the new and improved version of himself, confidently striding around the court — both in transition and in half-court sets, not hesitating to fire away when those chances were there and giving the ball up when the Nuggets surrounded him.
Both edges to his game are sources of pride for the 23-year-old guard who has elevated to new levels in this series — on account of his own progress and of the Nuggets’ largesse via lax resistance. His point totals against Denver: 57, 30, 20, 51, 30, and, lastly, in this sixth game, 44. He posted those numbers without being greedy, seeking what his team needed, not what he wanted.
He simply did not have enough help.
Whenever Mitchell sat, the Nuggets surged. The Jazz bench sagged.
The Jazz appeared to suffer from an overabundance of anxiety. There were stretches where the messages cascading from their brains to their synapses went haywire. Not throughout, but enough to hand the advantage to the Nuggets, who were happy to accept it.
Mike Conley got 21 points, and after that … nobody got a lot.
Gobert struggled again to slow Jokic, and there was no way he could guard all of the Nuggets. But in this series, that’s the requirement.
With Jamal Murray working his wonders, scoring a thrilling 50 points — “He’s hitting contested shots,” Snyder said. “He’s been terrific” — and Jokic going inside and out, Gobert has been chucked in a blender, trying to be here, there, everywhere, and, as a result, he’s labored. Sometimes, he’s been nowhere.
The Nuggets hit 55 percent of their shots, continuing their offensive barrage, as the Jazz slipped just enough to lose. Making matters worse, they were destroyed on the boards, 43-30.
As easy as it seemed for the Jazz to win three out of the first four games in this series, now they appear incapable of ending it. They are on the brink of becoming one of the rare, infamous teams that had a series wrapped, but could not properly apply the tape.
If they haven’t found the ability and composure to close this thing out in Games 5 and 6, who’s to say they can finish it in Game 7?
Afterward, they said it.
But it’s reached a desperate point — Dietrich still standing in the backlit door, beckoning — of believing that will happen only when it’s seen, not before.
If it’s desperation the Jazz needed, they’ve got it now.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.