And so, a Jazz season that was supposed to be something special, something extraordinary, something that would lead to championship contention is over.
Done and finished.
Crashed and burned.
Buried and mourned, with additional mourning yet to do.
“I’m still in shock,” Donovan Mitchell said after the burial at Staples Center, “… This is going to eat at me for a long time.”
He called the whole of it, in terms of sports, “devastating.”
It came to an end, the eating and devastation commenced, on Friday night in and after the sixth game of a second-round playoff funeral, count of 131-119, on the Clippers’ home floor, the Jazz players one by one walking in procession out of a game, off the court and into a locker room for the last time.
Sing a requiem for the Utah Jazz.
Basketball gods be with you, ‘til we meet again.
How far short their campaign fell is up to each individual interpreter to decide. The interpretation here is … considerably.
Their success was premature and their failure abject.
“It’s painful,” said Rudy Gobert.
Not just the loss, but another observation by Gobert: “They were the tougher team … the more connected team.”
Those were supposed to be Jazz strengths.
Certainly, the elimination game was a huge disappointment, the Jazz leading by 25 points at an early juncture in the third period, and getting waxed over a forgettable stretch, their defense flailing, moved around by Clippers’ ball movement, drives and kicks and made shots, and sent into oblivion thereafter.
“It was a tough night for us, all around,” Quin Snyder said.
Added Mitchell: “We just didn’t execute on the floor.”
They were done in by small ball, Gobert struggling against it, by late rotations on defense, by turnovers, outscored via those fumbles and bumbles, 31-4, by jumpy actions at the offensive end, and by the 48th pick in the draft a couple of summers back, a young, unsung fellow name of Terance Mann. He scored 39 points, ripping the heart out of the Jazz. Paul George paid his teammate the ultimate compliment afterward, when he said: “He reminds me a lot of myself.”
Of Mann, Mitchell said: “He played his ass off.”
Many others on both sides contributed to the demise, but the Clippers faced down a stellar first half when the Jazz shot the ball near-flawlessly and played some defense, too.
They led, 72-50.
The third quarter, though, was a living hell for the Jazz, as they stopped hitting and stopped defending and looked as though they stopped breathing, choked by the pressure of the moment.
In short, they looked nothing like the team that had the NBA’s best regular season, collapsing over those most important minutes. They could not manage to reach the league’s postseason final four. They landed somewhere among the final eight. If that is satisfactory to some, the Jazz players aren’t among them.
Nor should they be.
That second half featured some of the worst basketball the Jazz played all year.
It was sad, sorry and ... kind of disturbing.
As a result, they got unceremoniously bounced, losing four straight games, which seemed much worse than the three straight they dropped to Denver in the bubble last fall.
“This hurts more than last year,” said Mitchell, who was emotional in the postgame, struggling to talk in complete sentences. He said the memory of it would haunt him constantly, even when he goes to the grocery store. “I’m not ready for this to be over.”
It really was and remains miserable for them, as they tried and try still to answer the question: How can a team be good enough to go up on an opponent by 22 over the first two periods and then get out-hustled, outscored, out-performed by 34 points in the third and fourth periods?
There are excuses available for those who want to lean on them.
A bad hamstring, a dinged ankle, but neither of those figured wholly much into this last loss, as Mike Conley played (haltingly) and Mitchell (39 points) played brilliantly, at least part of the time.
On the other hand, the Clippers were continuing to go without Kawhi Leonard, a player who is yet better than Mitchell, but his team, for the second straight game, didn’t miss him. The Clippers simply plugged in Leonard’s replacements and powered on, through the Jazz and into the Western Conference finals.
Mann, George, Reggie Jackson, even Patrick Beverly hit meaningful shots, as the Jazz wilted, leaving them to sit and suffer with what they left themselves.
An opportunity — and too many assignments and shots — missed.
In a way it was pitiable, the Jazz having laid down such grandiose plans, admirably so. They had targeted for themselves the top rung, and weren’t bashful about expressing those intentions to everyone.
They were good, and they knew it. Beating all those teams in the regular season indicated to them what they might be capable of achieving.
What a tease.
They and their hard work had been appreciated by most, who slowly came around to the notion that the Utah Jazz were, in fact, to be taken seriously, but doubted still by skeptics who never could fully see them as an authentic threat.
They were and they weren’t, as it turned out.
They moved impressively through the playoffs’ first round. But the Clippers, who went out of their way by losing two games against two of the league’s worst teams at regular season’s finish to be aligned with the Dallas Mavericks and then the Jazz on their way to the conference finals, never felt too concerned about what Utah would put down in front of them, even when they dropped the first two games of the series.
The same was true in Friday night’s finale.
Bad first half? So, what? They fired back and fired through a Jazz resistance that found itself, again and again, out of position and out of luck.
But luck had nothing to do with it.
Just talent and guts.
The Jazz like to say they attempt to learn from every game, be it victory or defeat, and the lessons to be gained from this experience are harsh, indeed.
“Everything,” Gobert said, “is a learning experience. … It was a great year, but …”
“… There are a lot of things that will have to be better.”
The memories will never be, haunting them as they will in the dairy and frozen foods sections and at the deli, as they think and rethink about those things at the grocery checkout stand.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.